NFP Saturday Tailgate

It’s a bittersweet morning here at the NFP because this is our last regular season Tailgate. However, Championship Saturday means that we are that much closer to going bowling and crowning a national champion for 2010. With that in mind, let’s start today’s tailgate.

Let’s crown some champions

Big 12 championship — Oklahoma vs. Nebraska: What a fitting way to end this rivalry, as the Sooners and Cornhuskers will meet for the final time in Big 12 play. These programs have been involved in so many special contests that it’s almost hard to believe that the Sooners and Cornhuskers will be in different conferences in 2011. Sure, it was never the same when the two schools were split into separate divisions in the Big 12. But with the Huskers off to the Big Ten after this season, it really does feel different this time around.

How about these numbers? Since 1900, OU and Nebraska have combined for 1,646 wins, 12 national titles, 8 Heisman Trophy winners and 84 conference titles. Extraordinary.

Here’s a look back at some of the teams’ best games in chronological order:

Bob DevaneyLegendary Nebraska head coach Bob Devaney.

1966 — Sooners ruin Cornhuskers’ perfect season: Bob Devaney and the Huskers came into Norman with a 9-0 mark and aspirations of a national championship. But the Sooners kicked a 21-yard field goal late in the contest and the defense held off the Huskers in the final minute for a stunning 10-9 upset. Nebraska would then get smashed 34-7 by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. By the way, OU didn’t even make a bowl game that season.

1971 — The Game of the Century: More than 55 million people watched this matchup on television — still a record for a college football game. Defending national champion Nebraska, riding a 20-game winning streak, stormed into Norman to battle No. 2 Oklahoma on Thanksgiving Day. Because of what was at stake, Devaney had his players’ food flown in from Lincoln in case the hotel chef attempted to give the Cornhuskers food poisoning. Coming into the game no team had come within 24 points of beating Nebraska, which was led offensively by wingback Johnny Rodgers. For Oklahoma, in its first full season running the Wishbone, All-American halfback Greg Pruitt led the way on the ground. Rodgers began the game with one of the most memorable plays in college football history, as he took back a punt on a remarkable run for a touchdown. Rodgers then vomited immediately after reaching the sideline. Nebraska would jump out to a 14-3 lead, but Oklahoma rallied as the Sooners relied heavily on the arms and legs of quarterback Jack Mildren to take a 17-14 halftime lead. For the first time all season, the Cornhuskers were trailing. Behind their power running game, the Huskers retook the lead 28-17 going into the fourth quarter. Back came Mildren and the Sooners, as OU found the end zone twice to regain the lead at 31-28 with 7:05 to play. But Nebraska had too much firepower, as it claimed the lead once and for all at 35-31 with 1:38 left to play. The Huskers sacked Mildren on third and fourth down in Sooners territory to ice the win, and Devaney was on his way to a 13-0 season and another national title.

1978 — Sims coughs it up: Not quite the Game of the Century — but it is close. Coached by Barry Switzer and led offensively by Billy Sims, OU did not complete a single pass in the game. But passing was deemed unnecessary with such a prolific rushing attack. However, it was a Sims fumble after a hit from Nebraska safety Jeff Hansen that ultimately was the difference. OU would beat the same Nebraska squad in the Orange Bowl to close out the season, but the perfect campaign slipped away with the fumble in Lincoln.

Keith JacksonOklahoma tight end great Keith Jackson.

1986 — Whoa Nellie! It’s Keith Jackson: The ’86 OU team may have been Switzer’s best, but the Sooners had another squeaker in Lincoln despite being favored. This time, however, OU was able to come out victorious. Brian Bosworth led an insanely good defense, although defense was also Nebraska’s calling card. In the end, it was too much Jamelle Holieway to Keith Jackson for the Huskers to bear. Not only did Jackson haul in a 17-yard touchdown catch, but his catch down the right sideline and subsequent rumble is one of the better catches in OU history. It set up a game-winning field goal to give the Sooners their 600th win in school history. If not for a 28-16 loss to Miami at the beginning of the year, many feel that the 1986 Oklahoma team was one of the best teams in college football history.

2001 — The Eric Crouch game: In a battle of the top two teams in the BCS standings, eventual Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Eric Crouch caught a touchdown pass on a trick play that sealed the game for the Cornhuskers. The Sooners, fresh off a national championship the year before, were undefeated up to that point behind quarterback Jason White and tailback Quentin Griffin. But it was Frank Solich’s squad that finished the job that day. Of course, a few weeks later the Huskers’ march toward a perfect season ended with an ugly 62-36 loss to Colorado in Boulder.

So, can the 2010 version of this classic rivalry live up to some of the great contests of the past?

If the Sooners are going to earn their automatic berth to the BCS, the offense must be balanced against the Blackshirts. Landry Jones tossed five interceptions in a 10-3 loss the last time he faced this defense, but the Sooners quarterback is enjoying a prolific sophomore campaign. Still, with the Huskers possessing the nation’s No. 2 pass defense, the rushing attack must be stellar.

Tailback DeMarco Murray’s knee has improved every day this week, according to head coach Bob Stoops, after he suffered an injury in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State. The Sooners not only need him to be effective running the ball, but he is a major contributor out of the backfield on swing passes and screens. The diminutive Roy Finch is also vital, as he helps take some of the rushing load off Murray.

For the Cornhuskers on offense, will Taylor Martinez get the starting nod under center? T-Magic fully participated in Wednesday’s practice, according to wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore, but it still looks like it will be a game-time decision as he is still wearing a boot on his left foot to combat his turf toe. He is also still nursing a right ankle injury originally suffered against Missouri and aggravated against Texas A&M.

I’m not sure how effective Martinez will be even if he is able to play, so I’m leaning toward this being a Cody Green game. While Green was effective against Colorado, he doesn’t possess the explosiveness of T-Magic. And the Buffaloes aren’t the Sooners. Expect a healthy dose of Roy Helu, Jr. and Rex Burkhead if Green is under center as the Huskers staff will ask Green to simply not turn the ball over while milking the clock and keeping the Sooners offense off the field.

I’m starting to think this game is going to be of the low-scoring variety, especially with both defenses being so stout on third down. With a more balanced offense, though, Oklahoma has the ability to put together longer, more methodical drives. And the fact that Martinez won’t be 100 percent likely is the difference in this contest. I’m liking the Sooners to send the Huskers out of the Big 12 with a loss.

Now, if only the Longhorns can rebound and become a real rival for the Sooners again…

Tyrod TaylorICONTyrod Taylor and the Hokies have been the team to beat in the ACC since arriving from the Big East.

ACC championship — Florida State vs. Virginia Tech: The Seminoles have won 13 of the past 14 meetings with the Hokies, but Frank Beamer’s squad has won three ACC titles in the team’s five seasons in the league and Va. Tech is on a 10-game winning streak. Florida State, of course, had a storied history of being the ACC’s top dog before the arrival of the Hokies from the Big East.

Seminoles defensive coordinator Mark Stoops has really turned around the FSU defense this season, as it ranks first in the nation in total sacks at 43 and 13th in total tackles for loss with 86. The FSU front four is disruptive and explosive enough to wreak havoc with the most physical of offensive lines.

The Hokies are No. 63 in the country in sacks allowed with 23, which is about middle of the pack, so Tyrod Taylor’s escapability could be the difference. Taylor is a special talent, and he has the ability to take command of the huddle and rally the offense around him.

Defensively for the Hokies, a unit that was very young and inexperienced has really grown up. They are 2nd in the nation in interceptions, and the unit has 12 interceptions in the past five games. They lead the nation in turnover margin at plus-16.

I think Virginia Tech, ultimately, forces FSU quarterback Christian Ponder into one too many mistakes. If you look at Ponder’s numbers this year, he’s third in the ACC in pass efficiency, is completing 62 percent of his passes and has 20 touchdowns compared to eight interceptions. He did struggle against Oklahoma and Boston College, but he’s played better since back-to-back losses against NC State and North Carolina. I just don’t think he’s been the same player as he’s been in the past because of a nagging elbow injury. With the Seminoles banged up in the backfield, I like the Hokies’ balanced offense to get the job done as Virginia Tech earns the automatic BCS berth.

And, of course, the big one…

SEC championship — Auburn vs. South Carolina: Does the Head Ball Coach have the magic to lead the Gamecocks past the Tigers to cap off a 2010 regular season that arguably — for a variety of reasons — has been the biggest in South Carolina history? After last week’s come-from-behind victory in the Iron Bowl, though, is there any reason to doubt what is looking like Auburn’s destiny to play for the BCS national championship?

This will be the second meeting of the year between the two teams after the Tigers had to come from behind — what a surprise — to beat the Gamecocks earlier in the season.

Marcus LattimoreICONMarcus Lattimore must be an integral part of the South Carolina offense against Auburn.

South Carolina is now playing at a different level, however, than it did in September. Keep in mind that running back Marcus Lattimore had 14 carries in the first meeting, but the Gamecocks went away from the run in second half, as the freshman sensation only rushed three more times after the break. Also, the coaching staff still seemed a little unsure of how to use Lattimore early in the year. Now, they truly realize how beastly he can be in big games. Thus, the Tigers defense is going to see a different running back this time around.

Also, Steve Spurrier yanked Stephen Garcia after the quarterback fumbled on consecutive series in the second half of the first meeting. And it was unclear whether it was because of the turnovers or because he was a bit groggy. Whatever the case, backup Connor Shaw came in and threw two interceptions — giving the Gamecocks 4 turnovers on their last four possessions of the game.

Garcia finally was able to put together a steady season under center as a senior. But will he be 100 percent for this one? He injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder and also banged the thumb on his throwing hand on a helmet during the win over Clemson last Saturday. He will start, but how will he hold up against the Auburn front four?

The Tigers have been on the ropes a few times this year, but each time the opponent has failed to close it out. Can the Gamecocks finish the job this time?

If they want to have any chance of spoiling the Tigers’ perfect season, Alshon Jeffery is going to have to have another career day. In the first meeting, the sophomore wide receiver caught eight passes for a career-high 192 yards. And we have seen the SEC’s best receivers — including Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones — shred the Tigers’ porous secondary.

Defensively, what does Gamecocks defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson have in store for Cam Newton? Johnson dropped defenders back against the Tigers quarterback in the first contest, and Newton beat them with his legs. We’ve seen that Newton can beat teams through the air, as well, so it’s pick your poison.

Despite Auburn’s propensity to give up big plays through the air, the defense gets it done when it counts. I’m not sure they can make South Carolina one-dimensional, but I just see too much Newton for the Gamecocks to overcome at the end.

This war is anything but civil

Oregon and Oregon State have split the last 10 Civil Wars, but the Ducks have won the last two — a 65-38 win in Corvallis in 2008 knocked the Beavers out of Rose Bowl contention while the Ducks prevailed 37-33 last year when both teams were vying for roses.

Based on the eye test, one would think this game will get ugly. But that could have also been said about the Oregon-Cal game that ended up being a close encounter a few weeks back. And it is a roadie, and it is a rivalry game.

For the Beavers to have any chance in this contest, running back Jacquizz Rodgers will have to channel his inner 2009 and run wild behind an offensive line that has been disappointing this season. And quarterback Ryan Katz will have to put his four-turnover effort against Stanford last week behind him by finding wide receivers Jordan Bishop and Markus Wheaton in the open field. It also wouldn’t hurt if Oregon’s gambling cornerback Cliff Harris was turned around on double moves once or twice.

Basically, if Katz can’t perform like Arizona’s Nick Foles did last week — throwing for 448 yards — Oregon State won’t be able to thwart Oregon’s undefeated season. Even then, Mike Stoops’ squad found out last week that even that wasn’t enough.

Have any suggestions for this column or have a college football question? Feel free to send me an email at

For updates throughout the games — and pretty much 24/7 because I don’t really sleep too much — follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

Enjoy the games!

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