BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 2 TEXAS (11-0) VS. COLORADO (7-4)
Reliant Stadium, Houston
1 p.m. EST, ABC
AFTER WATCHING the Longhorns escape from Kyle Field with a 40-29 win over Texas A&M last Friday, you wonder if USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin might install some option in the Trojans' game plan. Texas, which with USC forms the expected matchup for the national championship in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4, allowed 277 rushing yards by the Aggies, including 108 by option specialist Stephen McGee, a redshirt freshman quarterback who was making his first start.
McGee outplayed his Longhorns counterpart, Vince Young, who mustered only 162 passing yards and 19 rushing against the nation's 109th-ranked defense. None of this should provide encouragement or succor for Colorado, which has already been waxed by Texas this season, 42-17. Despite getting trounced 30-3 by Nebraska last Friday, the Buffs backed into the title game when Kansas upset Iowa State in overtime the next day.
For whatever reason the Big 12 championship game has been a friendly venue for underdogs, who have won four times in nine years. Colorado kept Texas out of the national championship game four years ago with a 39-37 win in the conference showdown--this after being thumped by the Longhorns in the regular season.
Here's why that won't happen again this year: The close call with A&M got the Texas players' attention; coach Mack Brown described it as the best thing that could've happened to his team. Look for Young, who with his play last Friday may have lost the Heisman to USC's Reggie Bush, to be focused and angry while getting a boost from a ground game led by Ramonce Taylor (above). Oh, and Colorado doesn't run much option.
THE PICK: TEXAS, 52-17
L.A. CITY CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 1 USC (11-0) VS. No. 11 UCLA (9-1)
The Coliseum, Los Angeles
4:30 p.m. EST, ABC
LAST YEAR running back Reggie Bush piled up 204 yards and scored two touchdowns on 15 carries against UCLA. If then offensive coordinator Norm Chow had given Bush more carries--Chow seemed intent on having quarterback Matt Leinart throw into the teeth of the Bruins' two-deep zone during the Trojans' 29-24 victory-- Bush (below) might have run for 400 yards. Well, he may do that this Saturday. Though UCLA is having its finest season since 1998 and could secure an at-large BCS bid by springing an upset, the Bruins rank 114th in the nation against the run.
Having watched Fresno State score six touchdowns during a 50-42 loss to USC on Nov. 19, quarterback Drew Olson, tailback Maurice Drew and the rest of the UCLA offense, which averages 40 points per game, must be wondering, Why can't we be the team to snap the Trojans' 33-game winning streak?
Several reasons: 1) Coming off a bye week, USC will be rested and healthy--particularly at linebacker, where a rash of injuries forced freshmen Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing into significant playing time. What's frightening is that the two have performed exceptionally well. 2) Converted safety Josh Pinkard has shored up the left cornerback position, which opposing quarterbacks picked on during the first half of the season. 3) After an uncharacteristically stagnant month the energy and frenetic tempo have returned to USC practices. 4) The Trojans are a victory away from playing for a third consecutive national championship, and only two schools have won or shared three straight titles.