Tumblers are about to fall into place, unlocking BCS and other bowl mysteries

Hofstra dropped football this week, but everybody else appears to be "a go," setting the stage for a frenzied final fury of frolic and fumbles.

The big game

Florida (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-0): East meets West in Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference title. Last year's game was more intense and exciting than the Bowl Championship Series title game -- some would argue you could have ended the season right there in Georgia.

Trailing by three points entering the fourth quarter, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was too much in rallying the Gators to two touchdowns.

"We weren't going to leave anything on that field," Tebow recalled this week.

Florida hasn't been as explosive on offense without play-maker Percy Harvin. These Gators are workmanlike.

"When we have to get things done, we get it done," Tebow says.

Alabama has labored on offense, needed two blocked kicks to beat Tennessee, and let archrival Auburn hang around too long. But the team's defense has been the 11 Blocks of Crimson, led by a recently discovered planet named Terrence Cody, who weighs 354 pounds and stands wherever he wants.

"He's just big," Tebow says of Cody. "You can't move him."

This isn't going to be a fireworks show like Oregon-Oregon State. Florida is ranked No. 1 in total defense to Alabama's No. 3. This is a 20-17 game sitting on a swivel, ready to tip either way, with the hex-factor being Tebow doing whatever he has to do -- jump pass, bunt a runner over, charge the net, ice the puck -- to win.

At stake: The winner advances to the Jan. 7 BCS title game at the Rose Bowl. The loser drops to the Sugar Bowl.

Game that matters

Texas (12-0) against Nebraska (9-3): The Big 12 Conference title game at Texas Stadium is the trigger to any eleventh-hour madness. A Texas win pretty much solves the BCS puzzle and sends Texas to the Rose Bowl to play the SEC winner.

Nebraska's worse-than-ordinary No. 92 offense will have to manufacture points against a Texas defense that looked impenetrable until it met Texas A&M on Thanksgiving.

Nebraska's 11th-ranked defense, anchored by roadblock nose tackle Ndamukong Suh, will have to stop Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who is heaven-bent on claiming perfection and the Heisman Trophy. McCoy has found his form after struggling early, especially against Oklahoma in October.

"I basically started the season over at that point," McCoy says.

McCoy's 479 total passing and rushing yards against Texas A&M rekindled memories of his Longhorns predecessor, Vince Young. McCoy is also trying to do what Young did four years ago -- lead Texas to the national title at the Rose Bowl.

At stake: For Texas, a berth in the BCS title game.

The 'other' game

Cincinnati (11-0) at Pittsburgh (9-2): The Bearcats' quest for an undefeated season and BCS bowl must be won in Steel Town in a game that will determine the Big East Conference championship. Possible distractions include rumors that Cincinnati Coach Brian Kelly may soon end up at Notre Dame.

Kelly's team has thrived despite having to replace 10 defensive starters this year, and having to play periods without injured quarterback Tony Pike.

At stake: The prospect of Cincinnati's first undefeated and untied season since 1887.

(Atlantic) coasting

Clemson (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (10-2): The Atlantic Coast Conference title game took a side seat when the participants were both tripped up last week in nonconference rivalry games. Clemson lost to South Carolina and Georgia Tech lost to Georgia.

At stake: an automatic berth in the Orange Bowl. A four-loss Clemson team advancing to a BCS bowl will not sit well with any higher-ranked team, or undefeated team, or team named Boise State, that gets left behind.

Great unknowns

What happens if Texas loses to Nebraska? Will Texas Christian make history and advance to play the SEC winner for the national title? If that happened, would it kill the argument that the BCS is as illegal as a BankOne (Bowl) heist?

Or, will the conspiracy case be strengthened if Texas loses, Cincinnati wins and the Bearcats jump TCU into the title game.

Or, what if Texas loses but the BCS standings pit Alabama and Florida in a title-game rematch? This almost happened in 2006 with Ohio State and Michigan, with Florida narrowly edging Michigan out for the No. 2 spot and then beating Ohio State to win the national title.

At stake: the future of the BCS system.

Other games to watch

Two days after the Rose Bowl was decided in Eugene, USC and Arizona will arm-wrestle for Holiday Bowl rights. USC may be San Diego-bound win or lose, with defeat sending the Trojans to the Poinsettia (so long as Cal beats Washington).

Also, Boise State puts the trim on a 13-0 year with a home win against New Mexico State.



latimes.com /sports The mail's here! Chris Dufresne answers all questions about the end of the USC-UCLA game. And don't call him Shirley.

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