Tony's Top 5: Not many big games but the big games qualify as huge

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The big games aren't numerous, but they are powerful and a few of them will have a huge rippling effect throughout the bowl system and beyond.

If LSU beats Georgia in the SEC championship, we will likely have an LSU-Alabama rematch for the BCS title. There are going to be folks in Palo Alto, Stillwater, and Blacksburg, Houston, and Boise who will take issue with the Crimson Tide getting a second bite at the apple.

But this season, you must agree, has been different. The weekend of Nov. 18-19, when four of the top seven in the BCS were beaten, changed everything. Here are the facts:

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 If Stanford doesn't lose to Oregon (53-30), we're not having this conversation.

 If Oklahoma State doesn't lose to Iowa State (37-31 OT) we're not having this conversation.

 Shoot, if Boise State doesn't lose to TCU (36-35) we're probably not having this conversation.

But they did and we are. And there may be one more interesting twist left. Here are five things to look for on this championship weekend:

1. LSU has a date with destiny: LSU is No. 1 in all the human polls. The Tigers are No. 1 in all the computer polls. And if you do the math, it is possible that LSU (12-0) could lose Saturday's SEC championship game with No. 14 Georgia (12-0) and STILL reach the BCS Championship game. I know. It makes your head hurt.

But with all due respect to some of my fellow media friends, the SEC championship game is NEVER irrelevant. Why? Because it's for the SEC championship. And don't tell anyone in my part of the world that the SEC championship is irrelevant.

Ever.

LSU is 12-0 for the first time in history and appears to have a date with destiny. For if the Tigers can beat Georgia and then beat No. 2 Alabama again, this time for the BCS championship, we will have to start talking about LSU as one of the greatest teams in history.

Under that scenario, LSU would finish the season 14-0 with nine wins against the Top 25 and four wins (Oregon, Arkansas, and Alabama twice) against the top five. That is the stuff of legends. Pregame: Georgia-LSU

2. I'm picking Oklahoma State to beat Oklahoma: Why do I not feel good about it? No. 3 Oklahoma State (11-1) knows it has to make a case to the voters Saturday when it hosts No. 10 Oklahoma (9-2) in Stillwater in a game that will decide the Big 12 championship.

Oklahoma State has to win convincingly and hope that enough voters in the human polls simply don't want an Alabama-LSU rematch. The Cowboys have to give the voters a reason to change their ballots.

But the fact remains that Oklahoma has won eight straight games in the Bedlam series, including four straight wins in Stillwater. Oklahoma has certainly shown it is vulnerable to the pass, because the Sooners got lit up in their two losses to Texas Tech and Baylor. And the Cowboys, with quarterback Brandon Weeden, pitch it and catch it better than anybody in the country not named Houston. Weeden has completed 73 percent of his passes for 4,111 yards and 34 touchdowns.

So I'm going with the Cowboys. But I really could be talked out of it. Pregame: Oklahoma-Oklahoma State

3. Clemson is stumbling and bumbling into the ACC championship game: Clemson once was 8-0, ranked No. 6, and looked unstoppable. The Tigers had one of the most powerful offenses, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd and superstar freshman receiver Sammie Watkins. Among those eight wins was a 23-3 thumping of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Oct. 1.

But the two teams are in very different places as they prepare to meet in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte. Clemson (9-3) has lost three of its past four games. The Tigers got thumped by Georgia Tech and North Carolina State in the conference and were manhandled by South Carolina last week.

Part of it has been injuries and part of it has been growing pains.

"Our guys didn't handle success very well," coach Dabo Swinney said candidly.

But all will be forgiven if the Tigers can beat the Hokies and claim their first ACC championship since 1991. That is a pretty tall order. Since losing to Clemson, the Hokies have hit their stride. Quarterback Logan Thomas is now a threat both running and throwing. Running back David Wilson has 10 games of over 100 yards. He was easily the ACC Player of the Year.

I have always like Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer in these kinds of games. Beamer leads Virginia Tech to its fifth ACC championship since joining the conference in 2004. Pregame: Virginia Tech-Clemson

4. Houston is playing its biggest game ever: Houston has won 10 conference championships in its colorful football history. There were some great days when Bill Yeoman was winning four Southwest Conference championships (1976, 1978, 1979, 1984).

But I would submit that No. 6 Houston (12-0) is playing the biggest game in school history when it meets No. 24 Southern Mississippi (10-2) for the Conference USA championship. If the Cougars win they are a lock to reach a BCS Bowl, probably the Sugar. A win would give Houston a chance to be 13-0, something the school has never done. And it would be the perfect showcase for quarterback Case Keenum, the NCAA's all-time leading passer. Ditto for head coach Kevin Sumlin, who is going to get a big-time offer at another school very, very soon.

Houston has played in the Cotton Bowl four times. The most famous of those games was a 35-34 loss to Notre Dame, which was directed by Joe Montana in the famous "Chicken Soup" game.

Playing in a BCS bowl would be the biggest football achievement in school history. But first the Cougars have to beat the Golden Eagles. Pregame: Southern Mississippi-Houston

5. There will be no Hail Mary at the Big Ten championship game: The last time Michigan State (10-2) and Wisconsin (10-2) played, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins made one of the biggest plays in school history with a Hail Mary pass to beat the Badgers 37-31. The following week Wisconsin got beat on another Hail Mary pass by Ohio State's Braxton Miller.

"A lot of teams would have felt sorry for themselves and pretty much packed it in," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "This one didn't."

Wisconsin regrouped and now the two teams will meet again in Indianapolis in the first-ever Big Ten championship game. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl.

It will be the classic matchup of an irresistible force and an unmovable object. Wisconsin has the No. 4 scoring offense in the nation, averaging 44.83 points per game. Michigan State is giving up only 15.42 points per game, which is the sixth best total in the country.

Two reasons I like Wisconsin:

 Quarterback Russell Wilson is the nation's most efficient passer, completing almost 73 percent of his attempts with 28 touchdowns and only three interceptions. If he throws a touchdown pass he will break Graham Harrell's NCAA record with at least one touchdown pass in 36 consecutive games.

 Running back Montee Ball is really, really good. He leads the nation in scoring with 34 touchdowns and needs six more to break Barry Sanders’ record of 39 in a season.

Michigan State will not get bailed out by a Hail Mary this time around and the Badgers go to the Rose Bowl. Pregame: Wisconsin-Michigan State

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show Wednesday at 8 p.m. on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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