Beavers, Gamecocks look to play spoiler on Championship Saturday
ATLANTA -- In his autobiography, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel described coach Steve Spurrier's reaction to Texas shocking Nebraska in the inaugural Big 12 Championship Game in 1996.
"As Coach Spurrier said, 'God gave us a mulligan,'" Wuerffel wrote in
Thanks to that Texas win -- and an Ohio State victory over undefeated Arizona State in the Rose Bowl -- one-loss Florida received a rematch against Florida State for the national title in the Sugar Bowl. But a higher power didn't provide the Gators with that mulligan. Longhorns coach John Mackovic did. Mackovic called a play named "Roll Left," and quarterback James Brown ran it perfectly on fourth down inside Texas territory to seal the stunning win.
Saturday, Spurrier can pay that kindness forward to another team from Texas if he can coach his South Carolina Gamecocks to an upset of Auburn. Or, depending on whether Oregon State's Mike Riley can lead his team to a similar shocker across the country against Oregon, South Carolina might become the second most popular team in Palo Alto, Calif., and Madison, Wis.
Or maybe neither spoiler will pull an upset. Maybe Auburn and Oregon will march unabated to the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz. Chances are, we'll only remember Saturday if someone gets shocked.
Pop quiz: What happened on Championship Saturday in 2005? Can't remember, can you? On that day, Texas annihilated Colorado by 67, and USC whipped UCLA by 47 to set up a clash of undefeated teams in the Rose Bowl for the national title.
Now what happened in 2007? If you love college football, you remember exactly where you were when Pittsburgh Wannstached West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl and cost the Mountaineers a trip to the BCS title game.
When it comes to Championship Saturday, we forget the years the status quo is maintained. We remember the chaos.
We remember 1996, when Roll Left opened the door for the Gators. We remember 1998, when Miami beat No. 3 UCLA in a wild shootout. Why did that matter? Because later that night, No. 2 Kansas State lost the Big 12 title game to Texas A&M in double overtime. So two teams missed their chance to play for the title, allowing Florida State to slip into the first BCS title game against Tennessee. We remember 2001, when LSU knocked Tennessee out of the national title game in the Rose Bowl against Miami. We remember 2006, when Florida fans
The Civil War kicks off Saturday in Corvallis at 3:30 p.m. ET. A half-hour later, the SEC Championship Game kicks off in Atlanta.
In Fort Worth, Texas, a lot of people in purple will wear out the jump buttons on their remote controls. If Oregon State or South Carolina pulls off the upset, TCU would likely ascend to No. 2 in the BCS standings and win a spot in the BCS title game. If both Oregon State and South Carolina win, a debate will rage. TCU probably would still get in, but who would play the Horned Frogs? Would it be current BCS No. 4 Stanford, which lost to Oregon by 21 on Oct. 2? Or would it be one-loss Wisconsin, currently ranked No. 5 in the BCS? Or would it be a one-loss Oregon or Auburn?
So what are the chances of college football attaining a state of pure, unadulterated BCS confusion on Saturday at about 8 p.m.?
Not great. South Carolina lost by eight at Auburn on Sept. 25 and had a chance to tie it late. The Gamecocks are just five-point underdogs and have improved at roughly the same rate as the Tigers since the first meeting. That's promising news for TCU, but not for anyone else. For true chaos, the Beavers must win the Civil War. That's quite a stretch considering Oregon State is a 16.5-point underdog and hasn't had playmaker James Rodgers since early October.
Still, 5-6 Oregon State doesn't lack motivation. The Ducks' Civil War win last year cost Oregon State a Pac-10 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Also, the Beavers' season will end if they don't win Saturday. A victory earns one more game. "I think everybody understands where Oregon is and what's on the line for them," Riley said. "For us, it's survival in the bowl picture."
Oregon State faces a steep climb Saturday. Oregon averages 45.8 points in Pac-10 play, and only Cal managed to keep the Ducks under 42. The Beavers might jump out to an early lead, but few teams close like the Ducks, who have outscored opponents 101-14 in the fourth quarter.
But some of these Oregon State players understand it's possible to shock a heavily favored, top-ranked team. They did it on Sept. 25, 2008, when they beat No. 1 USC, 27-21. Also, any superstitious fan of TCU or the other hopefuls looking for an omen should consider Oregon State's uniforms. The Beavers will unveil their Nike Pro Combat uniforms Saturday, and the new threads pay tribute to the 1967 team, which is known in Corvallis as the "Giant Killers." That team beat No. 1 USC, beat No. 2 Purdue and tied No. 2 UCLA.
Oregon State and South Carolina will face teams with startlingly similar MOs. Oregon and Auburn each tend to start slow and then dominate the second half. Meanwhile, Oregon State and South Carolina usually need their best runners to be effective to have a chance. For the Beavers, leading rusher Jacquizz Rodgers averages 121 rushing yards in wins and 82.2 yards in losses. For the Gamecocks, freshman Marcus Lattimore sets the tone for the offense. In the four SEC wins in which Lattimore played -- he missed the Vanderbilt game with an ankle injury -- he averaged 167.8 yards. In losses to Auburn and Arkansas, Lattimore gained 33 and 30 yards, respectively.
South Carolina's motivation is obvious. In 117 years of football, the program has exactly one conference title (the 1969 ACC crown). A win Saturday would easily be the most important victory in the program's history.
So can South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson draw up a gameplan to stop Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who helped lead the Tigers back from a 24-0 deficit at Alabama last week? When the teams first met, Auburn coaches didn't yet understand how best to utilize Newton. They realized his full potential while clawing back from a 20-7 second-quarter deficit. That night, Newton ran for 176 yards and three touchdowns while completing 16 of 21 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. By game's end, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn knew Newton's dominance on the ground could make him a ruthlessly efficient passer because the defense would have to take one man out of the coverage scheme to account for Newton runs.
Spurrier said the events of the first meeting will inform his staff's scheming, but he said a radically different gameplan might hurt the Gamecocks more than it would help. South Carolina still must try to do what it does best.
"Certainly we'll watch a tape of our last game with them," Spurrier said. "But we'll watch a tape of their last two or three games also. And your gameplan might be a little different, certainly. But generally we all do what we have to do to win games and go from there. You don't try to change too much."
Spurrier probably is less likely to play musical quarterbacks. In the first meeting, he yanked starter Stephen Garcia after two costly fourth-quarter fumbles. Garcia's replacement, Connor Shaw, moved the Gamecocks but threw two interceptions deep in Auburn territory. Since the loss, Spurrier believes Garcia has matured. "He has the tendency to duck his head [while carrying the ball] and hasn't done it since," Spurrier said. "Maybe he said, 'If I duck my head and fumble, maybe I'm coming out of the game.' That was for his safety and the benefit of our team. That was what we were trying to emphasize to him there was protect the ball and get down. He's done that well since. Maybe coming out of the game helped him a bit in that area of carrying the ball."
Maybe, but Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley had little trouble separating Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy from the ball last week. That's the issue for South Carolina and for Oregon State. They may have extra fans Saturday because they can spoil two undefeated seasons, but their opponents are each undefeated for a reason. Auburn didn't reach 12-0 and Oregon didn't reach 11-0 by accident.
But strange things can happen on Championship Saturday. Texas didn't have a chance in 1996. LSU didn't have a chance in 2001. UCLA didn't have a chance in 2006. Pittsburgh didn't have a chance in 2007.
We remember them because they gave us chaos. We've forgotten the rest.
Will we remember Oregon State or South Carolina, or will they end up footnotes in Oregon's and Auburn's march to the national title game?