NCAA sends 2011 out with a bang, NFL welcomes 2012

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With 2011 almost over, college athletes will have one last game before the calendar turns over.

College football and basketball teams compete today with the bowl season continuing on the gridiron and conference match-ups heating up the basketball court.

When the calendar flips to January, professional athletes take over the spotlight.

All 32 NFL teams will be playing on New Year’s Day with three playoff spots still to be decided in the final week. Seeding positions are also up for grabs as teams try to earn the right to play at home.

On the basketball court, the condensed NBA season continues with the Los Angeles Lakers coming into Denver to play the Nuggets.

The following are a few of the contests this holiday weekend:

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Indiana — college hoops

When: 4 p.m. today

Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.

Channel: ESPN 2

Breakdown: The resurgent Indiana Hoosiers started the season 12-0, including a win over then-No. 1 Kentucky, but fell in the Big Ten season opener, 80-55, on Wednesday at Michigan State.

The Ohio State Buckeyes also have one loss ­— a 78-67 defeat at Kansas — but were playing without big man Jared Sullinger.

Now, the two battle to stay atop the Big Ten and take momentum into the New Year.

Sullinger is averaging 16.3 points per game and 9.6 rebounds and is a national player of the year candidate.

Cody Zeller is Sullinger’s counterpart for Indiana.

Zeller’s stats are a little lower — 14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds — but he has had just as big of an impact for his team.

The two teams meet for their second game Jan. 15, so a win today would give one of the teams not only a better standing, but also a mental advantage in just over two weeks.

Also check out: No. 4 Louisville at No. 3 Kentucky — 10 a.m. CBS

Virginia vs. #25 Auburn — college football

When: 5:30 p.m. today

Where: Chick-fil-A Bowl — Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Channel: ESPN

Breakdown: A year ago, Auburn and Virginia were on opposite ends of the college football spectrum.

The Cavaliers were sitting at home after a disappointing 4-8 season.

The Auburn Tigers, however, were about a week from being crowned national champions after a perfect 14-0 campaign.

Now, Virginia is 8-4 and looking for its first postseason victory in six years while the Tigers are licking their wounds from a brutal Southeastern Conference schedule and a 7-5 record.

Both teams have proven they can hang with some of the best — Virginia has wins over then-No. 12 Georgia Tech and then-No. 25 Florida State while Auburn beat ranked Mississippi State and South Carolina.

The Cavaliers have one of the best offensive lines in the country, but the unit didn’t show up in a 38-0 loss to end the regular season against Virginia Tech.

The Tigers have options at quarterback, but most detrimental is playing without running back Michael Dyer, who is suspended for the bowl game.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Anaheim Ducks

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.

Channel: Altitude

Breakdown: The Avalanche are looking to end 2011 on a high note with a victory over the Ducks after winning five straight games in December.

Luckily, Anaheim is one of the worst teams in the league, allowing on average 3.2 goals per game.

But, both teams are averaging fewer goals scored than allowed at this point in the season.

The Avalanche were playing good hockey during their five-game winning streak, including a victory in overtime, one in a shootout and one over then-division leader Minnesota on Monday.

Colorado will have to slow Teemu Selanne, who has 35 goals on the season and 24 assists.

Ryan O’Reilly has played well for the Avalanche, scoring 26 goals and 17 assists, but it will require a team effort for the Avalanche to get back into the thick of the Northwest division chase.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Denver Broncos

When: 2:15 p.m. Sunday

Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver

Channel: CBS

Breakdown: Two weeks ago, the Broncos looked like a sure bet to win the AFC West and head to the playoffs with quarterback Tim Tebow leading the way.

After back-to-back losses, the Broncos need to win in week 17 or have the Oakland Raiders lose to wrap up the division.

Quarterback Kyle Orton returns to Denver for a chance to derail his former team’s playoffs hopes, but must deal with a relentless Broncos defense.

Many people said Tebow couldn’t win games, but now he has a chance to lead his team to the playoffs. The Broncos need one more win to get there.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets

When: 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver

Channel: Altitude

Breakdown: The Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers end 2011 and begin 2012 against each other.

Today, the two teams play at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

But Sunday, the Nuggets and Lakers travel to Denver and battle at the Pepsi Center.

The Lakers started the season 0-2 before scoring their first victory Tuesday over the Utah Jazz.

Kobe Bryant averaged 27.7 points per game through the first three and Pau Gasol is averaging 17 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

However, Andrew Bynum has yet to see the floor because of a four-game suspension he was issued after a tantrum last season.

Bynum will return today and also play in Denver.

The Nuggets have continued what worked from last season — using youth to outrun and outscore opponents.

In the first two games, the Nuggets averaged 116 points per game and have six players averaging double figure points.

With both teams at full strength, the game in Denver is likely to be a high-scoring affair.

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants

When: 6:20 p.m. Sunday

Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford

Channel: NBC

Breakdown: Both the Cowboys and Giants are sitting at 8-7 entering the final week of the season, making the week 17 match-up a winner-takes-all situation.

The victor of the contest at MetLife Stadium will win the NFC East and advance to the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. The loser will be done for the season.

The Giants were in a must-win situation last week going up against the New York Jets and didn’t squander the opportunity in a 29-14 victory.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, lost last week to division rival Philadelphia and quarterback Tony Romo left the game after smacking his throwing hand on a helmet.

Romo will be back this week, but the Giants have already bested the Cowboys once this season, 37-34, on Dec. 11 in Dallas.

With everything on the line, Cowboys v. Giants II should be just as entertaining as the first game.

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