Gordon Gee, the former president at Vanderbilt, set off a firestorm earlier this week when he, now the president of Ohio State, scoffed at the Bowl Championship Series rankings and said teams like Boise State and TCU have no business being at the top with college football’s “big boys” who face a “murderer’s row” week after week instead of playing “the Little Sisters of the Poor.”
Gee said what many feel; that the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten, the Pac-10 and the Big 12 offer a much more demanding gauntlet of a season than the lighter schedules that Boise and TCU have mastered.
By the very next day, Bob Kustra, the president of unbeaten Boise State, called Gee’s comments, "the greatest exaggeration I think we've heard this year in college football." He also grabbed Ohio State’s schedule and retorted, "If they're not playing the Little Sisters of the Poor, they're playing the Little Brothers.
"I don't mind somebody stating that they don't think we ought to be in the national championship,” said Kustra, “but to do it with such erroneous information as Gordon Gee has used gets under the skin of all of us who thought university presidents were supposed to be standing for fairness, equity and truth."
Well, that blithe exchange between two noted leaders of higher education brings us to the greatest week in college football. In a rare Friday and Saturday chock full of crucial games, allow me to veer from my customary “Top 10” and comment on many more that will decide the BCS, bowl-game pairings and just about any other question that still might linger by early Sunday morning.
Here we go:
No. 2 AUBURN (11-0)at No. 9 ALABAMA (9-2), 2:30 p.m. (CBS Sports) -- Back in August, long before the first kickoff of the season, there were strong rumors that this could be the game of the year -- today it really is. Auburn must beat its nemesis for the Tigers’ national title hopes to thrive but Alabama is still a 4-point pick going up against the best player in the country -- Cam Newton. With stars galore on both teams, how does it get any better than this? MY PICK? Alabama, 28-21.
COLORADO (5-6)at No. 16 NEBRASKA (9-2), 3:30 pm. (ABC Sports) -- The Huskers, ears still burning after last week's tirade following the stunning 9-6 loss to Texas A&M, are a 18-point favorite going into Boulder, but ever since Brian Cabral became the interim coach after the 52-45 loss to Kansas, Colorado has won twice. Now Cabral, who played for the Buffs in the '70s, says, "This program is centered around (beating) Nebraska. There's no question in my mind." Just the same, 18 is a lot of points. MY PICK? Nebraska, 27-13.
No. 20 ARIZONA (7-3) at No. 1 OREGON (10-0), 7:00 p.m. (ESPN) -- Mighty Oregon barely beat Cal last week, 15-13, but any flash fell off Arizona with two straight losses. Oregon is also an 18-point pick, but after last week's scare you feel better about the Ducks' chances to cover the spread. After tomorrow, UO can run the table at Oregon State next week while Arizona plays at Arizona State in the finale. MY PICK? Oregon, 42-17.
No. 3 BOISE STATE (10-0) at No. 19 NEVADA (10-1), 10:15 p.m. (ESPN) -- Boise is the most explosive team in the country, scoring over 50 points in the last two weeks and averaging 49.7 for the year. Yes, UN has won 11 straight at home, but I don't see how Nevada can contain BSU's sensational Kellen Moore who is completing 71.8 percent of his passes (best in the nation) and has now thrown for 28 TDs. BSU is a 14-point favorite and I think that's golden. MY PICK? Boise State, 48-14.
MICHIGAN (7-4) at No. 8 OHIO STATE 10-1) , 12 Noon (ABC Sports) -- UM looked good in the 48-28 romp over Wisconsin while Tressel & Co. had to claw for a 20-17 verdict at Iowa. This is one of the most gloried rivalries in the country, but there is that peculiar odor that tells us if Rich Rodriquez does not come back to Ann Arbor a winner tomorrow, he might not need to bother. The reason? UM has now lost six straight to OSU and that rankles the purists. The Buckeyes are favored by 17 so despite UM being assured of a bowl game, ole "Rich-Rod" better not buy any green bananas. MY PICK? Ohio State, 31-21.
No. 11 MICHIGAN STATE (10-1) at PENN STATE (7-4), 12 Noon (ESPN2) -- Joe Paterno, winning four of the last five, announced Tuesday he'll return for the Nittany Lions next year so you know the 83-year-old coach won’t be giving the PSU version of the "Gipper "speech tomorrow. After all, we know that the MSU version works after the Spartans have won 6-of-7 following Mark Dantanio's heart attack following the Notre Dame game. The good part about this one is that MSU is favored by 1, it's in State College and to PSU fans this is the biggest game of the year. Yeah, I like the old geezer. MY PICK? Penn State, 28-24.
VIRGINIA (4-7) at No. 13 VA. TECH (9-2), 12 Noon -- It's a great story, how Va. Tech lost twice within a week at the start of the season and has since won nine straight for a berth in the ACC Championships so the logical thinking is they'll bash the Cavs. VT is picked by 23 after three straight losses, but the Wahoos have pride and the hint is this won't be a runaway with the Hokies a little wary before heading to the big one in Charlotte next week. MY PICK? Va. Tech, 28-14.
KENTUCKY (6-5, 2-5) at TENNESSEE (5-6, 2-5), 12:20 p.m. (SEC Network) -- I've got Tennessee pretty strong here. Rookie QB Tyler Bray was a little sluggish last week in the 24-10 yawner at Vandy, but the running game responded, which is huge after a season like this one has been. With a balanced attack and "football is fun again," UT has the speed, size and talent to outdistance the Cats, 2-2 in the last four games. UT knows a bowl bid hinges on what happens and with this one in Knoxville, UK's 3-point edge is shaky at best. MY PICK? Tennessee 27-14.
No. 6 LSU (10-1, 6-1) at No. 12 ARKANSAS (9-2, 5-2), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports) -- This is Saturday's answer to Friday's Alabama-Auburn showdown. LSU, now fifth in the BCS, has to get past a very good Arkansas and Ryan Mallet, the UA quarterback, would be an All-American anywhere else but the SEC West. The Razorbacks are favored by 3, but Les Miles has pulled the rabbit out of the hat too many times to discount a team that beat Alabama by 3 and lost to Auburn by just 7. MY PICK? LSU, 31-28 in overtime.
FLORIDA (7-4, 4-4) at No. 22 FLORIDA STATE (8-3), 3:30 p.m. -- (ABC Sports) -- So here come the Gators into Tallahassee, winning just three in the last seven, and UF is searching for redemption. FSU, on the other hand, needs Maryland to beat N.C. State for the 'Noles to slip in next week's ACC championship, so the story line is complicated. UF, you'll recall, got legendary Bobby Bowden axed after whipping FSU for the sixth straight time last November, so the Gators don't mind being a two-point underdog ... much. MY PICK? Florida, 26-24.
No. 21 N.C. STATE (8-3) at MARYLAND, 3:30 (ESPN2) -- This is real simple. If NCS wins they'll get a rematch against Va. Tech in the ACC title game (VT beat the Pack, 41-30 on Oct. 2), but if the Terps, a 2-point underdog, can pull this out, Florida State will probably offer a better game to TV viewers. The Wolfpack is 4-3 in the last seven games while UM is 3-3 in the last six so you can understand NCS coach Tom O'Brien's reasoning. ``We've tried to keep it as a one-game championship each and every week. Now they believe me because it is the last game. It is the championship game of the Atlantic Division. We have an opportunity to do something special.'' MY PICK? N.C. State, 24-20.
BYU (6-5) at No. 23 UTAH (9-2), 3:30 p.m. (CBS College Sports) -- Before you start laughing, BYU has won the last four games, the scores of the last three being 55-7, 49-10 and 40-7. The powerful Utes know better than most that 11 of the last 13 games in this storied series have been decided by 7 points or less. So, go ahead, jump on the fact Utah is a 10-point favorite all you want because for two schools located only 50 miles apart, I got a hunch BYU just might surprise a lot of people. MY PICK? BYU, 31-27.
NORTHWESTERN (7-4) at No. 5 WISCONSIN (10-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports) -- It's just been two weeks since Wisconsin crushed Indiana, 83-20 and last week the Badgers chomped Michigan by 20. While the thought is UW will bring out the steamroller -- the Badgers are favored by 23 -- NWU knows that with four losses in the last six games another shabby showing will likely cause embattled coach Ron Zook some “consternation.” But a NU win is a tall order. MY PICK? Wisconsin, 36-17.
No. 25 MISS. STATE (7-4, 3-4) at OLE MISS (4-7, 1-6), 7:00 P.M. -- State, a team that can't remember being nationally-ranked this late in the year, can cap a glowing season in the SEC West in this year's rendition of "The Egg Bowl" but Ole Miss, after a tolerable showing in last week's 43-36 loss to LSU, will play their hearts out with no bowl game in sight. Dan Mullen has done wonders with the Bulldogs and with recruiting such a factor in the Magnolia State, you would think the cowbells will ring loud and long. But MSU is just a 2-point pick and, in Oxford, stranger things have happened to the Bulldogs’ hopes before. MY PICK? Miss. State, 24-21.
No. 18 SOUTH CAROLINA (8-3, 5-3) at CLEMSON (6-5), 7:00 P.M. (ESPN2) – South Carolina goes into “Death Valley” a 3-point pick, but the Gamecocks, with a chance to become the third team in USC history to win nine regular-season games, are calling this the biggest game of the year. The “state championship” over the SEC title? No, but with QB Stephen Garcia, RB Marcus Lattimore and WR Alshon Jeffery clicking, this could be a rout. MY PICK? South Carolina, 35-14.
WAKE FOREST (2-9) at VANDERBILT (2-9, 1-7), 7;30 p.m. (CSS) – Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell is on the wire, and despite a groundswell of support coming after VU officials winced this week at the record, you’ve got to remember he was “appointed” just days before August practice began. All the players in this game – with 18 losses combined -- just want the season to end but Vandy, and Caldwell, have a chance since the Commodores are favored by 6. MY PICK? Vandy, 24-17.
GEORGIA TECH (6-5) at GEORGIA (5-6, 3-5), 7:45 p.m. (ESPN) – The luster is off this Deep South rivalry, but with Georgia struggling for a bowl bid, you have to believe the ‘Dawgs will pounce. UGa is favored by 14 after winning four of the last six games so the big question is will this be WR A.J. Green’s last game in Athens. He says he’s “not made up my mind yet” but his mom wants him to get a college degree. MY PICK? Georgia, 37-21.
No. 14 OKLAHOMA (9-2) at No. 10 OKLA. STATE (10-1), 8:00 p.m. (ABC Sports) – They call this “Bedlam” and with OSU sitting on 10 wins, the Sooners are in a great spot as a 3-point underdog. OSU would rather be the underdog – the Cowboy players like it better – and OSU has clobbered the last two opponents, but many in Norman are making the trip because they think Bobby Stoops is ready to create “Bedlam” for the eighth straight time. MY PICK? Oklahoma, 34-28.
NOTRE DAME (6-5) at SOUTHERN CAL (7-4), 8:00 p.m. -- Notre Dame comes to the coast after losing two of the last four – not to mention the tragic off-the-field events that have made this the longest season in South Bend in years. USC, with last week’s 36-7 loss to Oregon State downright embarrassing, needs QB Matt Barkley to play in order to win the ninth straight over the Irish. Both teams are having down seasons, hardly a sign of this great series, so figure USC being favored by 4 is the best indicator. MY PICK? Southern Cal, 29-24.
* * *
Last Night - No. 17 Texas A&M (9-3) won a 24-17 Thanksgiving night victory over arch-rival Texas, handing the Longhorns (5-7) their first losing season since 1997. “From the first scrimmage of the year, I didn't see what I wanted,'' Texas coach Mack Brown said afterwards, ``I learned I don't like losing. It's been 20 years since I haven't been to a bowl.''