Hot Reads: It's football, championship style - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Hot Reads: It's football, championship style

Tre Mason and Auburn will try to stretch their fortunes for a few more games, starting with Saturday's SEC Championship Game against Missouri. (Source: Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics) Tre Mason and Auburn will try to stretch their fortunes for a few more games, starting with Saturday's SEC Championship Game against Missouri. (Source: Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
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(RNN) - In the words of the late Harry Caray, "Hey, everybody. It's Conference Championship Week!"

OK, those sound more like the words of Will Ferrell, who parodied Caray on Saturday Night Live.

If you don't think those skits are hilarious, you're probably younger than 30, definitely not a baseball fan and more than likely enthralled by the current, hipster-friendly version of SNL. That show stinks now, by the way.

Before we get started, let us take a moment to mourn the loss of two very important left knees - those of Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger.

How freaky is it that the two best NFL quarterback prospects from the SEC this season went down with the same injury in back-to-back weeks? It's almost freakier than the way Auburn has won its last two games.

The NFL's Unofficial Minor League not only lost some star power in the draft, it could also be a loser in the BCS title race for the first time in eight years.

SEC Championship Game

Missouri vs. Auburn, 4 p.m. ET Saturday

If this year's Iron Bowl was the mother of all football games, the contest this weekend in Atlanta looks like mama's twin sister.

The matchup between the East and West versions of the SEC's top Tigers may not have all the hype of Auburn-Alabama, but don't doubt for one second it could be a great game.

Not only do they share a nickname, they also share similar identities on both sides of the ball. Auburn was good enough to beat Alabama, and Mizzou is built almost exactly like Auburn. So chew on that.

They are most similar on defense where the philosophy is to play soft pass coverage while the front seven wreaks havoc on the poor souls entrusted with handling the rock in the backfield. Mizzou leads the SEC in interceptions and sacks and has created 10 more turnovers this season than Auburn. That is largely because of the handiwork of the only three players from the same team who are in the top 10 in the conference in sacks - league leader Michael Sam (10.5), Markus Golden and Kony Ealy, who each have 6.5.

Give the quarterback advantage to the black and gold Tigers. Nick Marshall throws well enough when he has to, but James Franklin can throw at will and looks nearly flawless doing it. They're both cool customers with a ton of confidence and a nose for big plays, so expect a lot of fireworks.

Mizzou's rushing offense isn't nearly as prolific as Auburn's, but it's the next closest team in the conference. However, Auburn's relentless ground game will look even better since it's highly unlikely Mizzou's secondary will provide the physical play necessary to stop an attack like that.

Put it like this - Alabama's rushing defense is the definition of dominant, and Auburn blasted the Crimson Tide for nearly 300 yards.

And there's your difference. A run-heavy team that won its last two games on a long pass and a failed kick returned for a touchdown will grind this one out in more traditional fashion.

It's tempting to pick Missouri because their big-play ability is so much stronger, even without miraculous, last-second wins. But they do some gambling with the hope that their opponents will make mistakes. It's hard to be effective that way when the team lining up across from you does the safest thing possible - run the ball like there's no tomorrow.

Big Ten Championship Game

Ohio State vs. Michigan State, 8:17 p.m. Saturday

There are several people who think an undefeated Big Ten team is more deserving of a spot in the BCS title game than a one-loss SEC team.

I am not one of those people. It's as simple as this - how good are the teams you are beating or losing to?

The disparity in the level of play between those two leagues - or any other league compared to the SEC - is great enough that if it were solely up to me, I might even consider an SEC team with two losses. But I'm not a computer, and I'm not a voter.

Here's the thing - we may not have to ask this question after Saturday. There are these guys called the Michigan State Spartans that I'm relatively sure will show up in Indianapolis to play the Buckeyes, and they're pretty good.

I could tell you the Spartans' defense allows the fewest yards in the country, but you may have already heard that. Better yet, I could show you why this defense is so good:

They close space and swarm ball carriers as well as any team you will see. Sparty held Michigan to minus-48 rushing yards. Even if Michigan's running game was pitiful, and is isn't, that would be an incredible feat.

The story of this game is how well Michigan State's D matches up with the second-most productive rushing attack in the country.

Linebacker Max Bullough said in no uncertain terms Sparty's mission is to beat the Buckeyes.

"I want to go to Indianapolis and win the game and go to the Rose Bowl the right way," Bullough said during a news conference Tuesday. "To me, the Big 10 championship, the Rose Bowl is the goal because to get there, usually, you have to win the Big 10 championship. That's what it is to me personally."

When linebackers take things personally, people should pay attention.

Pac-12 Championship Game

Stanford vs. Arizona State, 7:45 p.m. Saturday

Oh, if only the Cardinal had not made those two hiccups earlier in the season, then the BCS would be a nuclear mess. Thanks, Utah and USC!

Hey, Stanford, The Sun Devils actually beat the Utes this year. In yo' face, nerds.

Oh but wait, they lost to Stanford by two touchdowns one week after the referees snatched a game out of Wisconsin's claws in the final seconds. Please disregard that former insult.

This game could have all the excitement of the other major games going on Saturday and more. The key word here is could.

Turns out Stanford may have some cracks in the armor, and Arizona State may be better than advertised.

ASU's Carl Bradford is among the nation's leaders in tackles for loss, and he and Davon Coleman make for a duo that can harass any quarterback.

Stanford's Trent Murphy is a devastating force on offenses, and we already know how brutal the Cardinal's running game can be. Just ask Oregon.

ACC Championship Game

Duke vs. Florida State, 8 p.m. Saturday

Show of hands, who is still trying to figure out how Duke won 10 games this season? I'm sure there is a spattering of Blue Devils fans among the crowd of befuddled observers at their glorious but unlikely season.

Not having to play a team like Clemson certainly helped. Miami and Virginia Tech were on the schedule, but I guess those two forgot they were supposed to be good.

After searching high and low for any possible Duke edge in this game I found one: Geography. Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte is 143 miles from Duke's campus and 481 miles from Florida State's campus. Hey, I tried.

Florida State is good, but do you really know how good? FSU's points per game just from kicks matches or beats total scoring for FIU, Miami-Ohio and UMass.

They lead the ACC in both scoring offense and scoring defense with an average margin of almost 42 points per game. They have scored 21 more touchdowns than Clemson, who you may have heard has a fairly decent offense.

Oh, and there's a Heisman candidate playing quarterback for the Seminoles and what not.

There is no earthly reason Duke should win this game. But if there are two things you can count on 18- to 22-year-olds to do, it's prove you wrong and drive you crazy.

Mountain West Championship Game

Utah State vs. Fresno State, 10 p.m. Saturday

If you care at all to see the nation's leader in passing yards and a guy with a better shot at a pro career than his big brother, stay up a while to watch Derek Carr.

Like his older sibling David did more than a decade ago, Derek is making a lot of noise out West and drawing people's attention.

There is that one little matter of a loss to San Jose State last game, but eh, stuff happens.

MAC Championship Game

Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois, 8 p.m. Friday

Nothing to do and interested in checking out a guy that's as deserving as anyone of Heisman consideration?

Press the clicker till it stops on ESPN2, and watch quarterback Jordan Lynch do his dual-threat thang. The Huskies have been one of the most successful teams in the FBS the last few years because of Lynch, who is built like a Hummer but runs like a Honda.

As they say in Illinois, he's worth the price of admission, cuz. Actually, they don't say that. But they should. It would make a nice regional catch phrase.

Stat of the Week

16.19: You would think the current reigning power conference with a long list of NFL draft picks has a conference championship history full of knockdown, drag out fights. Not so much. The average margin of victory in the 21 prior SEC Championship Games has been more than 16 points, which means a loss in this game is usually as embarrassing as it is devastating. Kind of like the real NFL.

Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

  • Who do you think will win the SEC championship game?

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