The college football season is winding down.
In NCAA FBS, six conference champions will be crowned this weekend, bringing the BCS Championship and major bowl schedule into focus.
U.S. Under-19 National Team alumni will play key roles in these games as they look to end their seasons on a winning note.
Big Ten: No. 12 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin
8:17 p.m. ET, Saturday
Wisconsin junior defensive end Tyler Dippel (pictured) looks back fondly on his time with Team USA. In 2009, he was part of a gold medal-winning squad at the IFAF Under-19 World Championship.
Dippel already has played in two Rose Bowls with the Badgers. When his college career ends, he will be able to look back on all of it and remark at the opportunities that football has provided him.
This week, though, his focus remains squarely on Nebraska and the showdown in Indianapolis.
“(Going back to the Rose Bowl) would mean a lot. I have been very blessed,” Dippel said. “But right now, we are focused on the game ahead of us – the Big Ten Championship and Nebraska.”
Dippel has 17 tackles this season, including three sacks and two passes knocked down. He is joined on the Wisconsin defensive line by redshirt freshman Jesse Hayes, a member of the 2011 U.S. Under-19 National Team.
Nebraska beat Wisconsin, 30-27, in Lincoln on Sept. 29, a game the Badgers led, 20-3, early in the second quarter.
Dippel said the team learned from that loss – both about the Cornhuskers and about themselves. Both teams have watched the game on tape but have moved past it. They will take what they can from it.
“You look at what they did to hurt you in the last game, and you can work your schemes around not letting those hurt you again,” Dippel said. “They are going to attack the weaknesses in your defense, so you know where you need to strengthen those weaknesses.
“(It’s about) everyone doing their job one play at a time, nobody thinking about a big play that just happened, nobody dwelling on something. Everyone is locked in and doing their job.”
The Cornhuskers are looking for their first conference championship since 1999 as part of the Big 12.
Nebraska’s roster includes three former U.S. Under-19 National Team players.
Corey Cooper (2010) is a sophomore safety with 16 tackles, including two for loss. Imani Cross (2012) is a freshman running back with 289 yards and six touchdowns on 52 carries. Mike Moudy (2010) is a sophomore backup offensive lineman.
Pac 12: No. 16 UCLA at No. 8 Stanford
8 p.m. ET, Friday
Kevin Hogan has just three college starts under center for Stanford but is playing like a seasoned upperclassman.
A member of the 2011 U.S. Under-19 National Team that beat the IFAF World Team, 21-14, in 2011, Hogan took over the Cardinal quarterback job less than a month ago but did enough in that time to earn honorable mention All-Pac 12.
“He’s a really good decision-maker, and he’s poised,” UCLA head coach Jim Mora said of Hogan. “It’s a cliché, but he plays within himself. He understands his strengths and weaknesses.”
Hogan has completed 73 percent of his passes (81-of-111) for 818 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s also run for 162 yards and one score.
In a 35-17 win over UCLA this past weekend, Hogan was 15-of-22 for 160 yards and a touchdown.
On Saturday, he and his teammates will need to come right back and beat the Bruins again – this time at home – if they are to reach the Rose Bowl.
But Hogan won’t do it alone. Among the talent around him are seven other Team USA alumni who play for the Cardinal.
Alex Carter (2012) and Ty Montgomery (2011) joined Hogan on receiving Pac 12 honorable mention.
Carter has started six games in the secondary as a true freshman, making 38 tackles, including three for loss, and three forced fumbles. Montgomery, a sophomore, has 23 catches for 187 yards and averages 26.6 yards on kickoff returns.
A.J. Tarpley (2010) has made nine starts at linebacker, registering 49 tackles, including 6 ½ for loss and two sacks. He also has one interception and nine passes defended. Wayne Lyons (2011) has 23 tackles and one interception, while Devon Cajuste (2011) has one catch for seven yards. Noor Davis (2012) and Ikenna Nwafor (2012) are both redshirting.
For UCLA, Kody Innes (2010) is a backup offensive lineman, while Kevin McReynolds (2011) is transitioning from defensive line to offensive line a year after being named the Bruins’ outstanding scout team member.
SEC: No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 2 Alabama
4 p.m. ET, Saturday
A conference title and a trip to the national championship game.
That’s what’s on the line for both Georgia and Alabama when they face off Saturday afternoon in Atlanta.
The Bulldogs (11-1) come in on a six-game winning streak, setting a school record for points this season with 456.
A major contributor to the Bulldogs’ high-powered offense has been 2012 U.S. National Team member Todd Gurley. The freshman running back joined College Hall of Famer Herschel Walker as the only true freshmen in school history to record 1,000 yards rushing.
“I’m proud of him, no doubt,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said of Gurley. “He’s getting yards after contact, and he’s a very physical kid.”
On the season, Gurley has 176 carries for 1,138 yards (6.47 average) and 14 TDs.
For the Crimson Tide, Jabriel Washington (2011) is a redshirt freshman defensive back.
Mid-American Conference: Northern Illinois and Kent State
7 p.m. ET, Friday
The MAC Championship Game takes it to a whole new level this year as the winner has a chance to advance to a BCS bowl.
Kent State senior left tackle Brian Winters, part of the 2009 gold medal-winning Team USA, said that prize would be great, but the focus remains on Northern Illinois and the challenge the Huskies bring to Ford Field in Detroit.
“As a senior, there couldn’t be a better road that I would have liked to have gone down,” Winters said. “We as a team knew that if we did our assignments and played mistake-free, that there isn’t a team out there that could beat us. I am very happy with how everything has played out, and I am so proud of my team.”
Winters has started all 48 games of his college career. He is the key cog in an offensive line that has the Golden Flashes averaging 402 yards this season, earning first-team All-MAC recognition.
Asked to describe his offensive anchor, Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell said simply: “He’ll be playing on Sundays.”
Northern Illinois has a talented leader with Team USA lineage as well. Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch was Winters’ teammate on the 2009 U.S. Under-19 team.
Lynch has rewritten the Huskies’ record book this week and is closing in on NCAA marks as well.
With 2,750 yards passing and 1,701 yards rushing, Lynch leads the nation in total offense. He has thrown for 23 touchdowns against just four interceptions and has 16 TDs on the ground.
In his first year as a starter, Lynch now holds the NCAA record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback with 10. He is one yard short of Denard Robinson’s single-season rushing mark for FBS quarterbacks. His 407 yards passing and 162 yards rushing against Toledo two weeks ago marked the first time an FBS quarterback passed for 400-plus yards and rushed for 150-plus yards in the same game.
A dark horse Heisman candidate this year, Lynch was named the MAC Offensive Most Valuable Player and one of 10 finalists for the Manning Award given to the best college QB.
“We set high expectations for ourselves,” Lynch said. “We feel like we can win every game. We don’t step on the field to lose.”
Conference USA: Central Florida at Tulsa
Noon ET, Saturday
One thing is certain: With both teams averaging 35 points per game, the scoreboard operator may be the busiest guy in the stadium.
Tulsa sophomore guard Jake Alexander, a member of the 2010 U.S. Under. 19 National Team, has watched the Golden Hurricane offense evolve from one with deep concerns to the successful unit it has become.
“We’ve come together extremely well,” Alexander said. “At the beginning of the season, there were some questions surrounding the offensive line because there were inexperienced guys playing, but we work well together as a group, and we’ve been coached extremely well.”
Alexander and Central Florida wide receiver Josh Reese were teammates in 2010, helping beat the IFAF World Team, 17-0. Reese has caught 11 passes for 122 yards this season.
Alexander said the game will give him a chance to catch up with his former Team USA teammate but that he does keep in touch with other members of the 2010 squad – including Adam Shead at Oklahoma and Steele Divitto at Boston College.
“We see how each other are doing in football and in life,” Alexander said of the bonds he formed as part of Team USA. “We’ve made pretty good friendships since the time we played together.”
Also for Tulsa, Conner Floyd (2011) has two catches for 41 yards while averaging 10 yards per punt return. Rob Riederer (2012) is redshirting for the Golden Hurricane.
ACC: No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech
8 p.m. ET, Saturday
Three former U-19 National Team players are currently on the Florida State roster – Daniel Foose (2010), a sophomore offensive lineman, and freshmen quarterbacks Sean Maguire and Jameis Winston, both of whom are redshirting this fall for the Seminoles.