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November 30, 2007

Strange season could have familiar finish

MORE: Big 12 Championship | ACC Championship | SEC Championship | Weekend Primer

The shortest distance between two points remains a straight line, but the same destination can be reached via the scenic route, too.

Despite a zany season in which upsets occurred with startling frequency and top-10 teams were toppled seemingly on a weekly basis, the usual suspects could emerge as champions of the six major conferences.

USC lost to Oregon and Stanford. Oklahoma lost to Colorado and Texas Tech. LSU was beaten by Kentucky and Arkansas. Virginia Tech lost to Boston College and was clobbered by LSU. Ohio State fell to Illinois in Columbus, no less. And West Virginia was beaten by USF again.

Yet when the regular season ends Saturday, USC, Oklahoma, Ohio State, LSU, Virginia Tech and West Virginia could be conference champions.

Ohio State already has won the Big Ten crown. Likewise, West Virginia already has captured its fourth Big East title in five years.

USC clinches at least a share of the Pac-10 title with a victory over UCLA on Saturday. Oklahoma can claim its fifth Big 12 championship in eight years with a victory over Missouri. LSU seeks its third SEC title since 2001 when it faces Tennessee. And if Virginia Tech avenges its earlier loss to Boston College, it will win its second ACC championship in four years of membership.

So, in a topsy-turvy season in which Appalachian State defeated Michigan, Louisiana-Monroe stunned Alabama and Navy finally beat Notre Dame, what does it say that the same powerhouses may eventually reign as champions?

"It says good is good," said American Football Coaches Association executive director Grant Teaff, the former coach at Baylor. "Good (programs) will transcend, but not any of them have gotten through without a knot on their head.

"The consistency of the program will allow you to still win a conference championship, though you may not win in a blaze of glory and walk on through."

Teaff has seen Baylor win conference championships and bowl games, so that might mean he has seen it all. And he said this season is the most unusual he ever has seen.

"I found it extremely unique," Teaff said. "And I'm thinking this might not be an aberration. This might be the way it's going to be. Over the last seven or eight years, institutions have hugely increased their facilities and spent money to get quality coaches and keep them, and there's a lot of competition. You get two teams on the field and anything can happen.

"Also, what is interesting an as observer is how dependent some teams are on individual players. The Oregon case staggered me."

Oregon was ranked No. 2 in the nation and appeared to be cruising to the Pac-10 championship three weeks ago. But quarterback Dennis Dixon suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 34-24 loss to Arizona and the Ducks have scored just one touchdown in seven quarters since he was injured.

Now the Ducks, who were a national-championship contender, are hoping they can beat Oregon State and wrangle a Holiday Bowl invitation.

"Oregon looked like a big inner tube when you let the air out," Teaff said. "That was a tough deal to see."

That is, unless you're a fan of USC. The Trojans appeared out of the Pac-10 race after losing to Oregon 24-17 on Oct. 27. But without Dixon, the Ducks followed the loss to Arizona with a loss to UCLA. Suddenly, USC was in charge in the Pac-10 title race.

That just goes to show that the more things change the more they remain the same, especially in the 2007 college football season.

MORE: Big 12 Championship | ACC Championship | SEC Championship | Weekend Primer

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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