Crunch Time For Top Teams

Go ahead and call it Showdown Saturday.

Big games abound in each major conference, and while most won't actually decide the league champion or division winner, it'll be close enough. For example: Mississippi State at Alabama.

The Bulldogs are looking to preserve their perfect season, and if they do, they'll have a two-game lead with two to play in the SEC West. An Alabama victory means all it has to do is knock off Auburn to win the division. The reward (or sentence): Playing Florida in the SEC title game in Atlanta.

Likewise, there will still be games to be played in the Big East, but go ahead and size the championship rings for the winner of the Miami-Virginia Tech game. In the Big 12, Kansas State could seal the deal in the North with a victory at Nebraska; otherwise, the Cornhuskers take control with a game at Colorado left.

Speaking of Colorado, its old coach, Rick Neuheisel, has Washington poised to win its first Pac-10 title since 1992. All the Huskies have to do is pound UCLA on Saturday like everyone else has and then pound Washington State Â… like everyone else has.

Dontae Walker and Mississippi State hope to raise a few more helmets by beating 'Bama.>
Dontae Walker and Mississippi State hope to raise a few more helmets by beating 'Bama.(AP)

In the ACC, Florida State has clinched the league title, but upstart Clemson and Georgia Tech go at it for second place and the probably invitation to the Gator Bowl.

The Big Ten picture is still muddled because Penn State has two difficult games left, including Saturday's titanic clash with Michigan. Survive that and resurgent Michigan State is lurking next week. Survive that and the Nittany Lions are well-deserved league champs. Lose, and Wisconsin is headed back to the Rose Bowl.

Oh, yeah. Wisconsin. The Badgers will play one of the least-compelling games of the day vs. Iowa, but will grab all the headlines. That Ron Dayne guy is 99 yards short of breaking Ricky Williams' career rushing record Â… and he should have absolutely no trouble doing it by halftime.

Conference Roundups
Top 25 | ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | Big West | C-USA
Independents | MAC | MWC | Pac-10 | SEC | WAC
TD bgcolor="#f0f0f0" class="s2"> Auburn is as healthy as it has been all season, considering QB Ben Leard will be back and so, too, will be offensive guards Colin Sears (concussion) and Mike Pucillo (elbow) from injuries. But even at its best, the Tigers are going to need some breaks to get past Georgia.
One week away from this month's game of the century, the Seminoles shouldn't have too much trouble taking care of Maryland, which was hit by some key injuries last week, including a season-ending knee injury to QB Calvin McCall. Florida State had last week off, so it should have its legs fresh and ready to go down the stretch.
Matchup Breakdown
Terrapins (5-4, 2-4) Seminoles (9-0, 7-0)
It's a tough time to go with a new freshman quarterback (owing to McCall's knee injury), but at least Latrez Harrison shows the confidence required. Still, LaMont Jordan better be ready to carry the ball 30-plus times as the Terps try to play keep-away from FSU and keep the pressure off their young QB. While the offense has borne the brunt of the criticism for its inability to put away foes, FSU actually has been more productive with the ball this season compared to last. The 'Noles are averaging 30 more yards in total offense (50 in passing alone) and five more points than last season.

No. 19 MIAMI (Fla.) at No. 2 VIRGINIA TECH, 7:30 .m., ESPN
Virginia Tech has won four hard-fought games in a row over the 'Canes, and, likewise, this huge-stakes game should be quite a battle. The Hokies have reason to be extra-geeked -- slipping in the BCS rankings the way they did after winning. Tech will want to win, and win big. Miami? It just wants to win Â… and win the Big East.
Matchup Breakdown
Hurricanes (5-3, 3-0) Hokies (8-0, 4-0)
The young Hurricanes are hitting their stride and have the athletes to counter-punch with the Hokies. Miami has had a 100-yard rusher in six of eight games, and will try to get James Jackson or true freshman Clinton Portis over that mark, all the better to take some heat off of gifted-bit-erratic QB Kenny Kelly. There are intriguing matchups all over the field, but the one of most concern to Tech might be Miami's talented receivers (Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne) vs. the Hokies corners. Remember, Tech is only two games removed from allowing 427 passing yards to Pitt and will need to tighten up against the 'Canes.

No. 3 TENNESSSEE at ARKANSAS, 12:30 p.m. ET
As strange as the season has been for Tennessee with the injuries and up-and-down performances, it all couldn't be playing out any better, rising past Virginia Tech to No. 2 in the BCS rankings this week. Now they visit the same Razorbacks and QB Clint Stoerner who outplayed them last season before fumbling the game away.
Matchup Breakdown
Volunteers (7-1, 4-1) Razorbacks (5-3, 2-3)
Running back Travis Henry has become a force again for Tennessee, bolting for 132 yards in the 38-14 rout of Notre Dame. He is picking up the slack created again by injuries to Jamal Lewis, who has been hampered by a shoulder bruise. Last year, Henry rolled to 197 yards against Arkansas. Arkansas gets the Vols in Fayetteville, where they hope they get better breaks than they got last year at Tennessee, when both teams entered 8-0. The Hogs need to find their offense, which evaporated aginst Ole Miss last week (a 38-16 defeat) following a three-game stretch in which they scored 140 points.

No. 4 FLORIDA at SOUTH CAROLINA, 12:30 p.m. ET
It looks like both teams will go with a new quarterback this week, but that means different things to the Gators and Gamecocks. Florida is apparently going with former starter Jesse Palmer instead of up-and-down regular Doug Johnson, while South Carolina is apparently going with former starter Phil Petty, who is back from an injury.
Matchup Breakdown
Gators (8-1, 6-1) Gamecocks (0-9, 0-7)
One week before the Florida State game, this is Steve Spurrier's way of making sure both of his quarterbacks are ready, because he'll probably have a quick hook against the Seminoles. What's different about the Gators, though, is that they have been running the ball so well. Lou Holtz has used six different quarterbacks and 17 different offensive linemen this season, and hasn't come any closer to winning a game (the losing streak will reach 20 Saturday). He says he'll be around for a while -- that rumors of his impending departure are greatly exaggerated.

No. 5 KANSAS STATE at No. 7 NEBRASKA, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
For a Top 25 aerial show, go see Marshall-West Virginia. What we've got here is a good ol' slugfest, a game for defense-lovers, with the Big 12 North title on the line. Both offenses have been inconsistent, but you've got to figure Nebraska for an edge playing at home and looking to avenge last year's loss.
Matchup Breakdown
Wildcats (9-0, 6-0) Cornhuskers (8-1, 5-1)
Just when it seemed QB Jonathan Beasley had turned the corner, he was yanked during last week's game for ineffectivness. That position has been an ongoing problem, and it will need to be played well against a Nebraska team that had eight sacks last week. If not, returner-extraordinaire David Allen might have to save the day. What would really please Frank Solich is a fast start from QB Eric Crouch and friends on offense; Nebraska has only one touchdown in the first half in the past three games. The defense has to avoid giving up the big plays in order to live up to DB Ralph Brown's very public boast: "We're not losing Saturday,'' he said.

No. 16 MICHIGAN at No. 6 PENN STATE, noon ET, ABC
Penn State better figure out a way to retool its emotions and fast after losing to Minnesota, because Michigan visits State College playing well and ready to try to duplicate the 27-0 rout it dumped on the Nittany Lions last year. Penn State still can get to the Rose Bowl with victories over the Wolverines and Michigan State.
Matchup Breakdown
Wolverines (7-2, 4-2) Nittany Lions (9-1, 5-1)
Michigan seems to have recovered from its mid-October depression, and suddenly can work its way into position for a Fiesta Bowl bid by beating Penn State and Ohio State. The Wolverines have whipped the Nittany Lions by a count of 61-8 the past two years. The national title is gone, but the downside of not winning the league championship is steep indeed. Lose either of their last two games, and the Nittany Lions will fall probably to the Citrus Bowl, and two losses would make them fortunate to get to the Outback Bowl with a 9-3 record.

No. 8 MISSISSIPPI ST. at No. 11 ALABAMA, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
It's the Bulldogs and Tide in the CBS national game with the SEC West championship at stake. Shaun Alexander is still ailing with an ankle injury and a myriad of defensive injuries have the Crimson Tide in big trouble. State has been charmed lately, in successive games staging an incredibl rally at Auburn, holding off LSU, and beating Kentucky on the last play of the game.
Matchup Breakdown
Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0) Crimson Tide (7-2, 5-1)
Backup quarterback Matt Wyatt has been something of a savior in State's best-ever 8-0 start, coming off the bench to lead two of the last three victories, and could play a lot in this one since hot-and-cold starter Wayne Madkin sustained a sprained ankle last week. Alabama lost three key defensive players to injury last week, and star tailback Alexander is at less than full speed, but coach Mike DuBose and his program are resourceful, if nothing else. Problems in the kicking game (two missed field goals and a PAT last week) need to be ironed out.

IOWA at No. 9 WISCONSIN, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Here it is for Ron Dayne, who needs 99 yards to break the NCAA career major-college rushing record. It's his last regular-season game, so this is it, as the Badgers finish the season earlier than any other team from a power conference. For what it's worth, the Hawkeyes rank 109th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 220 yards a game.
Matchup Breakdown
Hawkeyes (1-8, 0-6) Badgers (8-2, 6-1)
Let's just say that Iowa probably wishes that it was the team finishing off the season on Saturday. The Hawkeyes' only victory this season was against Northern Illinois back on Sept. 18. Dayne going for the record could be a plus Â… it'll mean the Badgers throw less often and take longer to score. Dayne's impending record, the apparent Heisman Trophy he'll receive Dec. 11 and the Badgers' all-but-complete 9-2 season are sure to land them in either the Rose Bowl (if Penn State loses a game) or Fiesta Bowl Â… unless they blow this unblowable game.

TEXAS TECH at No. 10 TEXAS, 7 p.m. ET, FOXSN
Everyone agreed that Texas was in fine shape to be a Y2K power and that this would be the year to beat them. Whoops. Hey, the Longhorns no longer have Ricky Williams or Wane McGarity or hardly any experience on the offensive line, but, with a victory here, they can do what the '98 bunch couldn't: Win the Big 12 South.
Matchup Breakdown
Red Raiders (5-4, 4-2) Longhorns (8-2, 5-1)
Don't know how they've done it, what with the injuries and a crazy up-and-down season, but the Red Raiders control their destiny in the Big 12 South. Beat Texas and Oklahoma Â… and the title is theirs. It's helped that true freshman RB Shaud Williams (645 yards, 6.1 per carry) has stepped up in a big, big way. How much do the Longhorns miss Ricky Williams? You can't tell by the scoreboard. Texas averaged 36.3 points a game last season, ever so slightly less than the 36.4 points put up by the 'Horns this season. For sure, his replacement, Hodges Mitchell, has been just fine, averaging 5.5 yards a carry and 106.1 er game.

This inter-divisional game really means very little to the Mid-America Conference's big picture. Western Michigan has already secured the Western Division title, and if Marshall doesn't wrap up the East here, next week's game against Ohio will surely seal the deal. But, WMU has the chance to prove to itself that it can really compete with Marshall in the MAC championship game Dec. 3.
Matchup Breakdown
Thundering Herd (9-0, 6-0) Broncos (7-2, 6-0)
If Marshall fans are wondering why the Thundering Herd isn't higher in the BCS rankings, last week's pedestrian 28-16 victory over Kent provided the answer. Granted, the Herd was without four starters, but they looked ordinary against one of the worst teams in the country. They can't do that this weekend and get away with it. The Broncos can lose here and still go to a bowl, provided they beat Marshall in the MAC title game. But that game will be played in Huntington, W.Va., so WMU better take advantage of this home-field edge. This is the time for QB Tim Lester, who has matched Marshall's Chad Pennington with a nation's best 29 TD passes, to show his stuff.

Clemson continues to surge, and Georgia Tech's defense continues to sag, so watch out in this one. The Gator and Peach bowls will be watching closely, since they can expect to wind up with either/or, with the Gator getting to choose before the Peach.
Matchup Breakdown
Tigers (5-4, 5-2) Yellow Jackets (6-2, 4-2)
After taking Virginia Tech and Florida State deep into the fourth quarter, Clemson has to see this as its chance to upset a ranked team. With QB Brandon Streeter back from injury, coach Tommy Bowden is looking for ways to keep athletic QB Woodrow Dantzler involved in the offense. Joe Hamilton and his great receivers have been sensational in leading the nation in offense. But the Georgia Tech defense has given up more than 30 points in half of its games. Allowing 396 yards and 27 points a game doesn't get you into a BCS bowl, and if they aren't careful, it won't get them even to the Gator Bowl.

AUBURN at No. 14 GEORGIA, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2
A bye week has allowed Georgia to get over the fact that it came short yet again against Florida and Tennessee, but the Bulldogs can get back to their ways of beating everybody else. And if they win their last three games, they'll probably get to the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Matchup Breakdown
Tigers (4-5, 1-5) Bulldogs (6-2, 4-2)
Georgia hasn't been able to sweep November since 1992, and with trips to Ole Miss and Georgia Tech to follow this game, it's going to be a hard road again in 1999. Three more wins would give UGa a remarkable 29 victories in three seasons under Jim Donnan.

BYU has swept unscathed through the MWC because of its multiple offensive threats and -- now that Rob Morris is back -- the best defense in the league. The Cougs will be challenged by Wyoming QB Jay Stoner (61 percent completions), who is finally coming into his own and is the reigning MWC offensive player of the week.
Matchup Breakdown
Cougars (8-1, 5-0) Cowboys (5-3, 2-2)
Winning in Laramie is never a sure thing, but the Cougars figure to be especially focused for the Cowboys this time around. If they win, they'll clinch the MWC title outright, rendering next week's game with Utah meaningless. A loss Saturday and they have to beat the Utes to claim the crown. Things seem to be rounding into shape for the Cowboys, who got 349 passing yards from Jay Stoner last week in a victory over Utah. With New Mexico and San Diego State still to go, the Cowboys could finish 8-3 and land in the postseason. The big "if" is beating BYU with a defense than ranks 87th nationally.

The rest: Nos. 17-25

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