Oregon rolls in Pac-12 title game
LaMichael James ran for 219 yards and three touchdowns and eighth-ranked Oregon beat UCLA, 49-31, in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game last night for the Ducks’ third straight conference title and a berth in the Rose Bowl.
While the Bruins (6-7) played with passion for outgoing coach Rick Neuheisel and kept it closer than many thought they would, it was not enough to overcome the Ducks (11-2), who are headed to a BCS bowl for the third straight season.
Darron Thomas threw for 219 yards and three touchdowns, becoming Oregon’s career leader with 63 TD passes. James became the first rusher in Pac-12 history with three straight 1,500-yard seasons.
In last night’s other championship game, Mathew Sims kicked a 33-yard field goal on the final play in Detroit to give Northern Illinois (10-3) a 23-20 victory over Ohio (9-4) and the Mid-American Conference title, the Huskies’ first since 1983.
UNH, Maine ready
With two weeks to prepare, New Hampshire and Maine both start their push in the Championship Subdivision playoffs today with second-round games.
The 11th-ranked Wildcats (8-3) are at No. 7 Montana State (9-2), their first trip to Bozeman since the 1976 playoffs. That was also the teams’ only previous meeting. UNH ranks eighth in the FCS in total offense, averaging 444.1 yards per game, but also 106th in total defense (430.1).
Maine (8-3) is coming off a 30-27 loss to UNH Nov. 19. The No. 13 Black Bears travel to No. 9 Appalachian State (8-3), which won three straight national championships between 2005-07. Maine last played the Mountaineers in the 2002 playoffs.
In more than a century’s worth of Bedlam games, the stakes have never been higher for Oklahoma State. The third-ranked Cowboys (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) still have an outside chance at getting into the national championship game with an impressive home win tonight against No. 13 Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2). Unlike idle Alabama, which is second in the BCS standings, the Cowboys have one last chance to make an impression before ballots are due. “If it’s actually going to happen the way it should, that decision’s going to be made after we play Oklahoma. So, it really doesn’t matter what I say,’’ said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy . . . Given little chance to knock off the nation’s top-ranked team, Georgia doesn’t have a lot to lose in today’s Southeastern Conference championship game. Then again, LSU probably doesn’t either. The Tigers (12-0) have already put together a résumé that’s impressive enough to get them to New Orleans for the BCS title game - even if the 12th-ranked Bulldogs (10-2) pull off a huge upset in Atlanta. To some, the SEC finale is just an afterthought for LSU. Coach Les Miles doesn’t see it that way. “We’re very, very focused on the next game and a very quality Georgia opponent,’’ he said.
A lot to take in
An undefeated season. A BCS berth. An invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Everything could be one win away for Case Keenum and No. 7 Houston. The 12-0 Cougars host No. 24 Southern Mississippi (10-2) today in the Conference USA title game. “We’ve done some special things,’’ said Keenum, the record-setting quarterback, “but we know that there are even more special things out there.’’ Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades said he’ll continue to talk contract extension with coach Kevin Sumlin, who is a candidate for several vacancies around the nation . . . There’s no arguing Virginia Tech has momentum on its side entering tonight’s ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C. The fifth-ranked Hokies (11-1) have won seven straight, while No. 21 Clemson has lost three of four. All of that means little to Frank Beamer, whose Hokies were drubbed by the Tigers, 23-3, in front of their own fans Oct. 1. “I think what’s happened in the past is in the past, and you’d better get ready to play this one ballgame with everything you’ve got,’’ said the Virginia Tech coach.
Rematch in Big Ten
A year ago, Wisconsin and Michigan State both finished 7-1 in league play and wound up in a three-way tie for the Big Ten title. Wisconsin won the tiebreaker and went to the Rose Bowl. This year, both went 10-2, won division crowns, and will face off in the Big Ten’s inaugural championship game tonight in Indianapolis. League foes would be hard-pressed to find major distinctions between the No. 11 Spartans and the No. 15 Badgers, whose previous meeting this season was decided by a Hail Mary touchdown. So who has the advantage this time? Oddsmakers have installed Wisconsin as a heavy favorite again. “I feel like no matter how much success we’ve had here, people doubt us,’’ Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins said . . . Host Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) can win a share of the Big East title today by beating Connecticut, which would make for a three-way tie in first place with Louisville and West Virginia. If Cincinnati loses, then it’s a two-way tie and Louisville would get the league’s BCS bid based on its head-to-head win over West Virginia. If it’s a three-way tie, West Virginia will almost certainly get the automatic BCS berth based on having the highest BCS ranking.
Former Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is unhappy with the way he was informed of his firing Thursday night and doesn’t believe his dismissal was justified. Sherman had just pulled into the driveway of a recruit’s home when athletic director Bill Byrne called to dismiss him. Sherman, who led the Aggies to a 6-6 record this season, was disappointed the news leaked to his family and players before he was told. “I think we’re better than that,’’ he said . . . Less than a year after hiring him, Vanderbilt extended coach James Franklin’s contract. University vice chancellor David Williams said Franklin, 39, will receive “extended years and a substantial increase in compensation.’’ . . . Missouri Southern players Michael McCrimmons and Diondre Johnson, both 19-year-old freshmen, were killed early yesterday in an automobile accident that also injured two other students, the university said.