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November 28, 2006

Many hopes hinge on USC-UCLA outcome

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Last weekend, USC emphatically answered questions about its merits for a spot alongside Ohio State in the national championship game with a 44-24 win over Notre Dame.

The rest of the Week 13 slate brought more questions than answers.

With USC's win, fellow one-loss teams Michigan and Florida will want answers to following questions: Why not us? How can UCLA pull the upset of USC?

Earlier this week, a few schools asked coaches to sign on the dotted line while others told coaches to pack their bags.

Here is Rivals.com's top questions and top games for the final week of the college football regular season:

Five Questions for Week 13
1. How will the final Bowl Championship Series standings look?
If Florida wins the SEC Championship Game, the endgame of the 2006 season would be a textbook example for the proposed plus-one format for the BCS bowls. The idea would be that the top two teams after the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls would face each other the next week for the national title. The system instituted this year, which includes the four BCS bowls on Jan. 1-3 and the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 8, would seem to be a precursor to that system. If high-profile programs like Michigan and Florida are squeezed out of the title game, don't be surprised if the plus-one gets a hard look. A potential problem, however, would be the increased access non-BCS teams like Boise State received to the big-money bowls this year. Those conferences probably won't want to give up their opportunities to play in a BCS bowl game.
2. How will the coaching dominos fall?
Thanksgiving weekend turned out to be "thanks, but no thanks" weekend for several coaches. Alabama, N.C. State and Arizona State all rid themselves of coaches this weekend. Cincinnati also has a vacancy after Mark Dantonio accepted the Michigan State job. Miami and Alabama are reportedly interested in Rutgers' Greg Schiano and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, but both coaches said they don't plan on changing schools. Schiano and Wake Forest's Jim Grobe are both hot commodities, and are coaching for conference championships. The Alabama and Miami jobs could prove tough to fill. The Crimson Tide is looking for its fourth coach since 2000. The Hurricanes are looking for a coach to take over a program with similar pressure - but one that is hampered by outdated facilities. Among coordinators who could move up are LSU's Bo Pelini and Jimbo Fisher, who have been mentioned for several coaching vacancies.
3. Does UCLA have a chance against USC?
Florida and Michigan certainly hope so. But to give the Gators and Wolverines a spot in the national championship game, UCLA would have to snap a seven-game losing streak in the series. The Bruins will look for a boost from quarterback Ben Olson, who could return this week after missing six games with a knee injury. The onus will be on the Bruins' defense. The UCLA offense is ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-10 in most categories, and will be up against the top scoring defense in the conference. The biggest things the Bruins have going for them are Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis, who rank first and second, respectively, in sacks and tackles for a loss in the Pac-10. UCLA's rush defense, ranked first in the Pac-10, will try to stop the Trojans' C.J. Gable. The true freshman has rushed for 198 yards since becoming the featured back two weeks ago.
4. Who would get into the national championship game if USC loses?
A USC loss would likely mean a Michigan-Ohio State rematch for the national championship. Florida trails Michigan in the Harris poll, the USA Today Coaches' poll and four of the six computer rankings that make up the BCS standings. To get into the national title game, Florida would need a USC loss and a convincing victory in the SEC Championship Game against Arkansas. While the Gators have only one loss, they don't have many convincing wins.
5. What are some bowl game surprises?
Two teams that didn't play in bowl games last year are one win away from one of the four BCS bowls. Arkansas and Wake Forest can clinch a major bowl bid by winning their conference championship games Saturday. Rutgers, which faces West Virginia in the regular season finale, can win the Big East championship. With a win over Nevada, Boise State (12-0) secured a BCS at-large bid. They will likely play in the Fiesta Bowl against the Big 12 champion. In addition to those season-long surprises, Saturday brought a few other unexpected bowl teams. Rice (7-5), which was 1-10 last year and started the season 1-5, is headed to its first bowl since 1961. New Mexico (6-6), which opened the season with a loss to Division I-AA Portland State, clinched a spot in the inaugural New Mexico Bowl by defeating San Diego State. Troy's 13-point comeback in the final 2:19 against Middle Tennessee State could give the Sun Belt two bowl bids for the second time in its six-year history. Troy (6-5) would win the Sun Belt title and a trip to the New Orleans Bowl with a victory over winless Florida International this weekend. The Blue Raiders (7-5) could still snatch an at-large bid in the Motor City, International or Poinsettia bowls ahead of several 6-6 teams.
Top Five Games of Week 13
1. No. 2 USC (10-1, 7-1 Pac-10) at UCLA (6-5, 4-4 Pac-10), 4:30 p.m., ABC
The Bruins just got a legion of new fans in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Gainesville, Fla.
2. SEC Championship Game: No. 4 Florida (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. No. 8 Arkansas (10-2, 7-1 SEC), 6 p.m., CBS
Florida will try to make its case for a spot in the national championship game against Arkansas, which lost to LSU last week.
3. Big 12 Championship Game: No. 19 Nebraska (9-3, 6-2 Big 12) vs. No. 8 Oklahoma (10-2, 7-1 Big 12), 8 pm., ABC
The old Big Eight rivalry will be renewed for the conference championship with Oklahoma sneaking in after a Texas loss.
4. ACC Championship Game: No. 23 Georgia Tech (9-3, 7-1 ACC) vs. No. 16 Wake Forest (10-2, 6-2 ACC), 1 p.m., ABC
Wake Forest is trying for its first ACC championship since 1970, Georgia Tech its first since 1998.
5. No. 13 Rutgers (10-1, 5-1 Big East) at No. 15 West Virginia (9-2, 4-2 Big East), 7:45 p.m., ESPN
With a win, Rutgers third bowl appearance in school history will be in a BCS bowl.



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