- The Washington Times - Monday, November 23, 2009

Nebraska holds the key to an entire state’s college football fate.

One half of the BCS title-game frame is in cement: The winner of the SEC showdown between No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama on Dec. 5 will earn a berth in the national title game.

Yes, both the Gators (11-0) and Crimson Tide (11-0) still have a game remaining against an in-state rival (Florida State and Auburn) before their date in Atlanta. But unless both suffer 20-point losses to lame-duck teams with a combined record of 13-9, a victory the following week in the SEC championship would trump any stumble and push them back to Pasadena.

Kvetch if you must, but that’s what happens when the nation’s top-ranked teams reside in college football’s top conference. The SEC has earned that respect by going 5-0 in BCS title games despite regular-season blemishes. In each of the past three seasons, an SEC team with at least one loss not only reached the BCS title game, but it also hoisted the crystal football.

Translation: The Florida-Alabama winner is headed to the championship game, regardless of what happens this week against the Seminoles (6-5) and Tigers (7-4).

Texas (11-0), on the other hand, cannot afford a slip. The Longhorns shouldn’t have much trouble this week against Texas A&M; (6-5), but the Big 12 championship game promises to be a major test.

Enter Nebraska (8-3, 5-2). The Cornhuskers rolled to the Big 12 North title Saturday with their fourth straight victory, three of which have come against solid squads (Oklahoma, Kansas and Kansas State). Thanks to the nation’s best defensive line, the Cornhuskers rank third in the country in scoring defense (10.27 points), stacking up behind only Florida and Alabama.

Don’t be surprised if Nebraska’s front four of Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Pierre Allen and Barry Turner (combined 51 tackles for loss, 21.5 sacks and 51 QB hurries) puts Texas quarterback Colt McCoy on his backside and sacks the Longhorns’ championship dreams in the process.

That result wouldn’t be unpopular throughout the Lone Star State because a Texas loss to Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game likely would send undefeated TCU (11-0) to the BCS title game.

As far as teams whose BCS hopes faded, Notre Dame’s 33-30, double-overtime loss to Connecticut officially should pull the plug on Charlie Weis. With three whiffs in a row (Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Weis), expect Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick to throw the bank at a proven commodity like former Notre Dame assistant Urban Meyer.

Astoundingly, the vibe out of Ann Arbor is that Rich Rodriguez likely will be allowed to return for his third season as Michigan’s coach. The Wolverines (5-7, 1-7 Big Ten) concluded a dreadful season with a fifth straight loss, won’t go bowling for consecutive seasons for the first time since 1962-63 and fell to 3-13 in conference play under Rodriguez. Does the winningest program in history really need to sacrifice another season to the Rodriguez experiment? At least they know a stiff when they see one in South Bend.

Game balls and gassers

Connecticut (5-5) earned this week’s top honors by finally winning a close game. Before Saturday’s victory over Notre Dame, the Huskies were the nation’s ultimate hard-luck team, falling in all five of their losses by four points or less and a combined 15 points. Saturday’s victory in South Bend also was the team’s first win since cornerback Jasper Howard was stabbed to death last month.

“Jazz, this is for you,” Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said, using Howard’s nickname. “The best win we have ever had.”

This week’s wind sprints go to LSU’s Les Miles and his staff. With LSU trailing Mississippi 25-23 with nine seconds remaining and the ball at the Ole Miss 48-yard line, Jordan Jefferson connected with star wideout Terrance Toliver for a 42-yard gain. With one second left on the clock and the officials waiting for the chain gang to wind the clock, the LSU bench called for Jefferson to spike the ball instead of attempting to run the field goal unit onto the field or taking a shot at the end zone.

This logic-challenged sequence occurred one play after the same crack staff allowed 17 seconds to tick off the clock before burning the final timeout. There’s a reason opposing SEC fans have long mocked Miles.

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