Set your TiVo for big college Saturday
If you're a college sports fan, this is the weekend for you. If you're not a college sports fan, you might want to rethink your priorities. There is so much college sports goodness on tap this Saturday that I don't know where to start. I have two televisions, three tuners and two TiVos (I told you I was a TiVo junkie) and even that's not enough to watch everything going on this Saturday. Let me take you through the schedule and give you some insight and information along the way. You can set your TiVos and adjust your schedule accordingly. If this isn't your thing that's fine too. I won't judge you. Ok, maybe I will. Just a little.
Noon ET: Your Saturday smorgasbord kicks off at noon ET (9 a.m. for you early birds out on the West Coast) with the Conference USA Football Championship, the first of four -- count 'em, four! -- conference championship games. The matchup between the SMU Mustangs (7-5) and UCF Knights (9-3) from Orlando will be shown on ESPN2. The favored Knights will be playing in front of a large home crowd at Bright House Networks Stadium and look to win its second C-USA championship since 2007 and second in school history under coach George O'Leary. The conference's top seed secures a spot in the Dec. 31 Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
Also at noon ET: Big East Football. Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (ESPN); Rutgers at West Virginia (ABC).
12:30 p.m. ET: If you prefer college hoops, do not panic. We have another outstanding early season (and early afternoon) matchup at 12:30 p.m. ET (on CBS) when No. 11 ranked Kentucky (4-1) heads to Chapel Hill to take on the currently unranked but always dangerous UNC Tar Heels (4-3) in another battle of outstanding programs. After the departure of top pick (current Washington Wizard) John Wall to the NBA, Coach Calipari has another group of supremely talented young players on hand (how does he do it?), including potential one-and-done Brandon Knight. The Dean Dome should be in fine form and the Tar Heels will be looking to reclaim the swagger that had them in the preseason top 10 before losses to Vanderbilt and Minnesota in Puerto Rico knocked them out. Freshman Harrison Barnes has struggled mightily and hopes to get back on track to earning his preseason All-American award.
3:15 p.m. ET: If you watched last year's NCAA championship game, I don't need to tell you why I'm fired up for Butler (4-2) vs. undefeated and No. 1 Duke from the Izod Center at the Meadowlands (that's in New Jersey). In one of the most memorable finishes to an NCAA championship game I've ever seen, Butler's last second halfcourt shot by Gordon Hayward hit the front of the rim and bounced off, giving Duke its fourth national title. I've watched that shot at least 30 times and each and every time I swear it's going to go in and Butler will pull off the stunning upset. This isn't the same Butler team (Hayward went to the NBA and Ronald Nored is questionable after sustaining a concussion), but this is still a rematch of two teams who played one of the best final games in recent memory just six months ago. Also, any chance to watch Duke is a chance to watch super-special Kyrie Irving, who treated us to a spectacular performance last Wednesday night against Michigan State. I'm not saying you'll actually want to root for Duke because of Irving, but you will want to watch them play. He is that good.
3:30 p.m. ET: It's time for the Civil War! No, not *that* Civil War. This is the annual showdown between the undefeated Oregon Ducks (currently ranked No. 2) and their in-state rivals, the Oregon State Beavers (5-6, 4-4). Oregon boasts the most explosive offense in the game right now (when I watch them play it's like watching a video game, even though I don't actually play video games) and the Beavers are playing for pride. They do not want to get blown out on national television and will do whatever it takes to make it a game. I'm looking forward to watching Oregon's crazy offense and also to their crazy uniforms. I wonder which garish color combination they'll go with tomorrow. Assuming Oregon wins, they will play in the BCS Championship Game against Auburn. But first Auburn has a little business it needs to take care of in Atlanta.
4 p.m. ET: This is where my two tuners start to get really busy because I am not going to miss the SEC Championship between No. 1 Auburn and No. 19 South Carolina. Hoo boy, you want to talk about a good old fashioned showdown. We've got the No. 1 ranked team and the Heisman Trophy favorite Cam Newton (I don't have the time or the space to get into everything that's going on with Cam Newton, but let's just say all eyes are on him at all times and not just because he's the best, most exciting college football playing right now) going up against Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks. After Auburn's spectacular comeback last week against rival Alabama, expect a high-scoring, back-and-forth game that should be a lot of fun. If Auburn wins, they should be in the BCS Championship Game against Oregon. If Auburn loses, then South Carolina gets one of the SEC's BCS slots and presumably Auburn replaces Arkansas as the SEC's second BCS bowl team. What if -- gasp! -- both Oregon and Auburn lose? Well that would mean mass chaos. I'm not prepared to deal with mass chaos, so we'll just move on.
5 p.m. ET: Need a little break from football? No problem. We've got another national Top 25 basketball showdown between No. 21 Illinois and No. 24 Gonzaga in the Battle of Seattle. Illinois (7-1) is coming off an impressive win over North Carolina in the recently completed ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and its only loss came in a tough OT battle with Texas. The don't-call-them-Cinderella-anymore Gonzaga Bulldogs (4-2) have lost to No. 3 Kansas State and in a shocker to San Diego State. Home court advantage in Seattle's Key Arena could be the difference in this matchup of two teams I expect to see in the NCAA tournament in March.
7:45 p.m ET: After you've had a chance to walk around the block to stretch your legs and grab a cup of coffee (I don't drink coffee anymore after giving it up 10 years ago, but I love the expression "grab a cup of coffee"), it's time for the prime time conference championship games. If ACC football is your preference, tune in to ESPN for No. 21 Florida State (9-3; 6-2) and No. 15 Virginia Tech (10-2; 8-0) in Charlotte for the right to represent the conference in the Orange Bowl. Virginia Tech has dominated the ACC since joining the conference and is favored to secure its fourth conference title since 2004. The Hokies have won 10 straight games since opening with two straight upset losses to Boise State and James Madison. Florida State has had a nice season after the retirement of longtime head coach Bobby Bowden and hopes to get to its first BCS bowl game since 2005 behind fifth-year senior quarterback Christian Ponder. Health remains an issue, but with wins over in-state rivals Florida and Miami already this season, Florida State could be poised for an upset.
8 p.m. ET: For our final game of the night, we go to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington for the Big 12 showdown between No. 13 Nebraska (10-2; 6-2) and No. 9 Oklahoma (10-2; 6-2) on ABC. This marks the final Big 12 championship game for Nebraska, since it will join the completely inappropriately named Big Ten conference in 2011. The winner of this matchup of great football rivals will represent the Big 12 in the Fiesta Bowl; the loser will go to the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners lead the all-time series 44-38-3. Oklahoma's powerhouse offense averages over 38 points per game and Nebraska's tough defense allows fewer than 17 points per game. Something's gotta give and I plan to watch every minute of it.
If you've stayed with me through the whole preview column, congratulations. Enjoy tomorrow's games. It's one of the best college sports days we've seen in a long time. I'll be on my couch, tweeting all about it.