Championship Saturday preview
While the Big 12 doesn't have an actual conference championship game, the league title is up for grabs on Saturday. A win by Oklahoma State will send the Cowboys to the Fiesta Bowl. But if the Sooners can pull the upset in the Bedlam Series, the winner of the Texas-Baylor game later in the day will go to Glendale.
Let's take a look at both Big 12 games as well as all of the conference title games that are on tap in the final week of the regular season (with the exception of the annual Army-Navy tilt next week, of course).
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are 5-0 this season at Boone Pickens Stadium and 18-1 at home in their past 19 games. Baylor knows all too well about this house of horrors. The Sooners will need a brilliant performance from quarterback Trevor Knight, who excelled in his last game at Kansas State. The redshirt freshman will need to use his quickness and speed on the ground while also being accurate through the air against the Big 12's best defense. The Pokes have generated 22 turnovers during their seven-game winning streak, so protecting the football is imperative for Knight.
US PRESSWIREBryce Petty and the Bears still have a chance to claim the Big 12 crown.
Texas at Baylor: Like they were in the dominant win over Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry, the Longhorns need to be physical on both sides of the ball. An emphasis on the power run game and physicality along the defensive front similar to their play against Texas Tech will be needed if the 'Horns are going to win in Waco. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has been sacked 10 times in his last four games, while Texas had nine sacks in its last game against Texas Tech. Can Jackson Jeffcoat be in beast mode again? Mack Brown's squad also needs to limit the amount of big-yardage plays against this Bears offense featuring Antwan Goodley, Lache Seastrunk, etc. And a big special teams play from someone such as Daje Johnson wouldn't hurt.
Marshall at Rice (Conference USA Title): The Thundering Herd have one of the nation's most productive offenses, led by quarterback Rakeem Cato. Marshall clinched the East division with an impressive win over a very good East Carolina team, while Rice used its very good defense to beat Tulane last week. The Owls have home-field advantage due to a BCS tiebreaker, but the Thundering Herd may have too much firepower offensively.
Missouri vs. Auburn in Atlanta (SEC Title): Raise your hand if you had both of these Tigers in your preseason SEC title game. Gus Malzahn has worked wonders in his first season back on The Plains as head coach, as his team finished the regular season with the SEC's No. 1 rushing attack (318 yards per game and 39 rushing touchdowns), including 296 yards on the ground against an Alabama defense that was allowing just 91 rushing yards per game before the Iron Bowl. That is a major concern for Gary Pinkel's squad despite it giving up just 119 rushing yards per game and 11 scores on the ground this fall. What was most impressive about Auburn's win last week was the offensive line getting to the second level and taking out those Alabama linebackers. The key matchup in this one could be Mizzou's big receivers against an Auburn secondary that could be susceptible. And the Auburn offense has yet to see such a dominant defensive front, led by Michael Sam (10.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss), Kony Ealy and Markus Golden. This 'D' held Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in check last week.
Stanford at Arizona State (Pac-12 Title): The Cardinal dominated the Sun Devils on both sides of the ball in their September meeting, but both teams have been much different outfits since then. David Shaw's team lost to Utah and was not able to carry its momentum out of the Oregon win, while Todd Graham's squad would be a tough out if there was a playoff system this year. Even without Marion Grice, the Sun Devils have a nice pool of weapons for quarterback Taylor Kelly. And I don't think that Cardinal running back Tyler Gaffney can win this game himself, because this ASU defensive front can match up with Stanford's strong offensive line. Consider that Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan has had difficulty on the road this fall. He is just 3-of-16 passing with one touchdown and two interceptions in the red zone on the road compared to being 12-of-20 through the air with five touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone at home.
Duke vs. Florida State in Charlotte (ACC Title): The Blue Devils are the feel-good story of the 2013 season, as head coach David Cutcliffe has managed to wrest the spotlight away from Coach K and Duke hoops. There is an obvious talent disparity in this one, so the Blue Devils will need big games from the running back corps led by Josh Snead, get a turnover or two, perhaps a big special teams play from Jamison Crowder and force Jameis Winston into his worst game of the season. But that FSU offense, which is averaging over 50 points per game, is just too much to overcome.
Ohio State vs. Michigan State in Indianapolis (Big Ten Title): The Spartans boast the nation's best defense, which is led by multiple standouts at every level. But the best offense they have faced this year has arguably been Indiana's unit. And the Hoosiers don't possess the offensive physicality that the Buckeyes do behind running back Carlos Hyde, who will try to join Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah as a 100-yard rusher against this defense. Quarterback Braxton Miller will be under pressure all game, so he will have to read his keys consistently correct. Meanwhile, Ryan Shazier and that Buckeyes defense will try to first and foremost stop Spartans tailback Jeremy Langford. While Connor Cook has developed at quarterback throughout this season, he will have to make plays through the air in some unfavorable downs and distances.
Utah State at Fresno State (Mountain West Title): There will be no BCS buster in the postseason format's final season, as the Bulldogs fell to San Jose State in a shootout last week and Northern Illinois fell to Bowling Green in the MAC Title game on Friday night. But the Bulldogs can still win their first outright conference championship since 1989 (when they were in the Big West). Meanwhile, the Aggies are trying to win the conference crown in their first year in the MWC. Quarterback Derek Carr, who has passed for 4,462 yards with 45 touchdowns against just five interceptions, will try to exploit an Aggies defense that has allowed just 10.2 points and 279.2 yards per game in the past five contests. But even with a porous Bulldogs defense, the Aggies can't match the offensive firepower of Tim DeRuyter's team.
Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.