Conference title games a mixed blessing

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:03 AM ET

Once upon a time, conference championship weekend stirred the passions of college football fans across the land.

Most notably, you had the best team from each division in the Big 12 and SEC playing off for a conference title -- a cachet which still carries some weight -- often after having not crossed paths during the regular season.

The intrigue of it all was clearly palpable.

In truth, though, the concept was a major cash grab by the conferences (the ACC has joined the party this season). But for fans, it was a few extra 'big games' on a weekend which often lacked them (unless you count Army-Navy).

And at times, it tripped up a major contender or two seemingly on the verge of playing for a national title. Kansas State (1998), and Tennessee and Texas (2001) being prime victims of shocking upsets.

But then you had silliness like Nebraska making it to the national title game in 2001, even though it didn't even play in the Big 12 final. Two years later, Oklahoma was stomped by Kansas State 35-7 in the same conference's title game, but somehow (thank you, computers) wound up playing LSU in the BCS national championship game anyway (USC, which was No. 1 in both human polls, got shut out).

And so it is, with all of that in mind, we address this Saturday's trio of championship contests. Sure, one of them -- LSU-Georgia in the SEC -- is a dandy, and by far the must-see game of the day (even if Auburn might well be the conference's best team).

But you've also got four-loss Colorado in the Big 12 title game (thank you, Iowa State) and fading four-loss Florida State in the first ACC championship. Neither of which, it says here, will be doing much celebrating on Saturday.

Lunchbox letdown?

You bet.

Just enjoy what you see at the Georgia Dome.

On with this week's picks:

GAME OF THE WEEK

SEC Championship (at Atlanta)

No. 3 LSU (-2) vs. No. 13 Georgia (Saturday, 6 p.m., CBS) -- The SEC has been home to some of the nation's nastiest defences this season. The Bayou Bengals and Bulldogs belong right near the top of that list, meaning a tight, low-scoring duel could be in order here. LSU's JaMarcus Russell and Georgia's D.J. Shockley are two of the country's most improved QBs in 2005 They'll be front and centre in deciding this one, which figures to go right down to the wire in front of a heavily pro-Georgia crowd. Talent wins out here, and the Tigers have more of it than just about anyone. Pick: LSU.

NEXT BEST THINGS

No. 11 UCLA (+21) at No. 1 USC (Saturday, 4:30 p.m., ABC) -- Looking for some serious offensive fireworks? Here's your game right here. Make no mistake about it: The Bruins, led by QB Drew Olson and do-everything back Maurice Drew, will score on the Trojans. Probably a bunch. But we can't see that soft UCLA defence doing anything to stop USC's RB duo of Reggie Bush and LenDale White. In other words, it's USC-Fresno State, Part II. Bruins have lost six straight to USC. Make it seven in a wild shootout. It'll be fun while it lasts. Pick: UCLA.

ACC Championship (at Jacksonville)

No. 5 Virginia Tech (-14) vs. Florida State (Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC) -- Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden is 13-0 all-time vs. the Hokies, while Virginia Tech head man Frank Beamer has never beaten Florida State (0-6). But you know what? All things must come to an end. And the Hokies, who've been on fire since being whipped by Miami early last month, are simply playing much better ball right now than punchless Florida State. One more thing: The 'Noles have never lost four straight in the Bowden era. Until now, that is. Pick: VIRGINIA TECH.

BLOWOUT OF THE WEEK

Big 12 Championship (at Houston)

No. 2 Texas (-271/2) vs. Colorado (Saturday, 1 p.m., ABC) -- Yeah, yeah I know all about 2001. But the Longhorns got their scare from old foe Texas A&M last Friday and won rather ugly. The last time that happened, the Steers racked up 60-plus points the next two weeks. Look for the Buffaloes, who were thumped 42-17 by Texas in mid-October, to get whacked again by Vince Young and Co. Pick: TEXAS.

QUICK PICKS

(Straight-up selections in bold)

Tomorrow

No. 23 Fresno State (-23) over Louisiana Tech

Saturday

Connecticut (+151/2) over No. 16 Louisville

South Florida (+9) over No. 12 West Virginia

Last week -- 10-1 straight up; 3-8 ATS.

Season record -- 174-53 straight up; 107-115-5 ATS.

Best bet -- LSU (4-9).


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