- The Washington Times - Monday, November 30, 2009

The BCS title game and Heisman chases have come down to one week, two games, three players, four teams and an all-in Saturday.

The road to Pasadena, Calif., for the BCS championship game leads through Atlanta and Arlington, Texas. One berth in the BCS behemoth belongs to the SEC champion, which will be decided when No. 1 Florida (12-0) meets No. 2 Alabama (12-0) Saturday at the Georgia Dome in the most anticipated matchup there since Super Bowl XXXIV.

Slot No. 2 in the BCS sweepstakes belongs to the Lone Star State. If No. 3 Texas takes care of Nebraska in the Big 12 title game Saturday night at Jerry Jones’ palatial stadium in Arlington, the Longhorns (12-0) will pack for Pasadena. If future franchise defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and his Cornhuskers (9-3) take down Texas, then TCU will leap past the Longhorns into the title game.

With apologies to Cincinnati (11-0) and Boise State (12-0), there is no other scenario. TCU is this season’s chosen Cinderella. The Horned Frogs capped their FBS margin-of-victory crown (average of 28.25 points) by thrashing New Mexico 51-10 on Saturday. Neither Cincinnati nor Boise State was as convincing all season as the Horned Frogs.

The Bearcats posted an unimpressive 49-36 victory over a dreadful Illinois bunch, then watched all the drama drain out of this weekend’s potential top-10 closer with Pittsburgh when the Panthers were out-brawled by West Virginia. While it would be nice if Texas and TCU squared off for the BCS berth opposite the SEC winner, this season isn’t screaming for a playoff format.

Why? Because the Bearcats and the Broncos have shown that neither would be better than a .500 squad in the SEC.

In the two conference title showdowns, don’t be surprised if the game in Texas is closer than the one in Atlanta. The Longhorns put on a pitiful defensive effort in their 49-39 victory over Texas A&M;, allowing the middling Aggies (6-6) to pile up 532 yards of total offense. Texas won’t be able to overwhelm a similarly indifferent defensive performance against Nebraska, which has allowed just seven passing touchdowns this season. Only Tennessee (five) and Florida (six) were stingier against the pass.

In Atlanta, Florida’s blueprint for success against Alabama was aptly demonstrated by Auburn in the Tigers’ near-miss upset bid against the Crimson Tide on Friday. Auburn took away Alabama tailback Mark Ingram (16 carries for 30 yards) and forced the Crimson Tide to rely exclusively on pedestrian quarterback Greg McElroy. The Tigers led throughout, but two Auburn turnovers were the difference in Alabama’s 26-21 comeback victory.

Not only will Alabama instantly have to recover from the physical and emotional fatigue of such a grinding experience (while the Gators cruised against Florida State), but this week McElroy likely will face the same game plan against a Florida squad that leads the nation in pass defense (143.2 yards).

In easily the most lopsided matchup in either title game, it’s McElroy vs. Florida’s all-NFL-bound secondary of Joe Haden, Ahmad Black, Major Wright, Janoris Jenkins and Will Hill.

Game balls and gassers

Ingram’s lousy day against the Tigers, combined with turkey weekend offensive feasts by Texas slinger Colt McCoy (more later) and Florida’s Tim Tebow (311 yards total offense, five TDs), leaves the Heisman’s big three in a dead heat entering Saturday. The player who defines the most important day of the college football season deserves the trophy.

By the way, Stanford’s Toby Gerhart earned a load of converts and a ticket to New York for the Heisman ceremony by bullying Notre Dame in the Cardinal’s 45-38 victory over the Irish on Saturday night. The senior back rushed for 205 yards and three scores and passed for another while flicking off the lights on the Charlie Weis era. He deserves a game ball for leading all FBS runners with 1,736 rushing yards this season. But with the exception of the extremely special (see Barry Sanders), the Heisman sweepstakes has morphed into a championship-team MVP award in recent decades. Gerhart isn’t special, and neither are the 8-4 Cardinal.

Virginia’s Al Groh and Louisville’s Steve Kragthorpe are already out of jobs, but that likely won’t be the end of firings over the holidays as Weis, Washington State’s Paul Wulff, Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen and Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez all could get pink slips.

This week’s leather goes to Gerhart and McCoy. The latter probably surged into the Heisman lead by turning College Station into his personal PR platform on Thanksgiving night. McCoy passed for 304 yards and four touchdowns and added a career-high 175 rushing yards on 18 carries (including a 65-yard scoring romp) in the Longhorns’ victory over Texas A&M.;

A group gasser goes to the ACC, which had a pair of 7-5 also-rans from the SEC East (Georgia and South Carolina) dispatch its top two teams (Georgia Tech and Clemson).

The individual sprint goes to UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel, whose ego compelled him to call his final timeout after USC took a knee at midfield with 50 seconds remaining and a 14-point lead in Saturday night’s clash at the Coliseum. USC’s Pete Carroll was shocked by the poor form, and his Trojans metaphorically spanked Neuheisel by dialing up a play-action, 48-yard touchdown strike from Matt Barkley to Damian Williams on the next play. The entire USC bench then proceeded to walk five yards onto the field and taunt the UCLA sideline.

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