It's one of the most exciting weekends in all of sports. Championship week in college football is as unpredictable as the New England weather which for certain is the reason we love it. Check out my breakdown of all the key title match-ups.
Pac-12 – Friday Night – Stanford (9-3) at USC (10-2)
In what could be the most exciting of all the conference championships, the winner of this contest will take home the Pac-12 crown, and a spot in one of the New Years’ Six Bowls. A pre-season favorite, USC got off to a 5-0 start, including a 20-point win at home against these same Stanford Cardinals, but tripped up on the road against Washington State and Notre Dame mid-season. Now at 10-2, the Trojans hopes of a final four playoff seed are unlikely, but a conference trophy and a January bowl game can still make the season a success.
For Stanford, they have a chance at getting redemption from their 42-24 loss to USC back in September. In that game, Bryce Love ripped off 160 yards on just 17 carries, but it was the magic man Sam Darnold who led the Trojans to victory with 4 touchdown passes. Since then, the Cardinals have had impressive wins over Washington, Cal and Notre Dame, and seem to playing the best football of the season at the right time.
While neither team is likely to play for the big title after this conference championship, it could be a last audition for Bryce Love and Sam Darnold before they enter the NFL draft in a few months. Love’s 16 scores on 1,848 yards have him as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and although Darnold squandered away his shot at that trophy earlier on in the season, his 24 scores on 3,462 yards passing has been very impressive and have NFL teams salivating at the chance to land him in the draft.
AAC – Memphis at UCF
What more can UCF do to prove they belong in the top 4? Undefeated in all 11 contests, one of the best offenses in football, and a coach who is turning down offers to meet with power-5 schools, the Knights are full of momentum as they head into the American Championship against Memphis.
UCF has been scoring at an incredible pace, including 3 games with over 63-points, and are led by signal caller McKenzie Milton and his 3,300 passing yards. His favorite target Tre’Quan Smith has just shy of 1,000 yards, and averages 19 yards per catch. His 11 scores lead a team that can put the ball in the end zone from anywhere on the field.
The Memphis Tigers are 10-1 overall, with their only blemish being a 40-13 loss to the Knights back in late September. Since then, they have won 7 in a row, and scored more than 30 points in all of them, including two games where put up 70. Their offense is red hot and feature a pair of game changing players, Darrell Henderson who has racked up over 1,000 yards and a 9.1 yards per carry average, and receiver Anthony Miller whose 14 touchdowns are equally as impressive as his 1,212 yards receiving. In that September meeting Henderson only carried the ball 6 times and Miller was held in check with just 3 catches. If they can get going this weekend, Memphis could pull off the upset.
There could be some CFP implications here if UCF wins this championship, but a lot would need to happen in the other conferences. With the ACC and SEC just about guaranteed a spot in the dance, they need Ohio State to beat Wisconsin, TCU to beat Oklahoma and hope that the committee sees their undefeated season as more impressive than a 1-loss Alabama or potentially Wisconsin, or a potential 2-loss Oklahoma or Ohio State team.
Big 12 – TCU at Oklahoma
Now, we get into the big four, the games that immediately impact the CFP. We start with a noon-kickoff for the Big-12 crown. Oklahoma controls their own destiny in this one, as Baker Mayfield leads one of the most exciting teams in all of college against Kenny Hill and the TCU Horned Frogs. If Oklahoma wins, they can guarantee their spot in the final four. If TCU pulls off the upset, they have an outside shot at the tournament, but highlight the word outside. They would need the committee to see their 2-loss season and conference title as more impressive than a potential 2-loss Big-10 champion Ohio State or a 1-loss Alabama team who isn’t even playing in the SEC title game. It’s not automatic for the Frogs, but there is hope with a victory.
Baker “Bad Boy” Mayfield has had an amazing senior season, one that has him as the front runner for the Heisman with his 37 passing touchdowns and over 4,000 yards in the air, but also has had him the center of controversy with his flag stick on the Ohio State logo, and his gestures towards the Kansas sidelines two weeks ago. Regardless of the latter, he has put the Sooner ball club on his back, and has them ready for this rematch with TCU. A few weeks ago, when the two met, Baker launched 333 yards in the air to go along with 3 scores, but it was sophomore running back Rodney Anderson who made the most noise, collecting 150 yards and 2 scores on the ground, to go along with 139 in the air with 2 more touchdowns.
Kenny Hill struggled in that game, with a QBR of 64 and throwing more incomplete passes, 15, than completions, 13. He connected with 6 different receivers, but none of them had more than 3 catches. Since that game, TCU has put up 72 points in just 2 games and Hill seems to be back on track after missing the Texas Tech game. He came back last week against Baylor to connect on 26 passes for 325 yards and 3 scores.
In the two losses TCU has this season, Hill has combined for just 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions and a disastrous completion percentage of 28%. In games they have won, he has 18 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a completion percentage over 70%. If Hill plays well, they win, and they will need him to play his best yet on Saturday against the Sooners.
SEC – Georgia at Auburn
It was just last month that were talking about Alabama and Georgia playing in the SEC title game, both undefeated, and both still making the CFP regardless of the SEC title winner. Fast forward to today, and everything is different thanks to Gus Malzone and the Auburn Tigers. After losing 14-6 to Clemson earlier in the season, and then a 4-point defeat to LSU, Malzone and company knew they needed to run the table to get to the title game, and they did just that, starting with a 23-point embarrassment of Georgia and a 12-point shocker over Alabama. Now, Auburn, the hottest team in the country, controls their own destiny. Even with 2 losses, a win in the SEC title game gets them in to the playoffs.
For Georgia, if they win, they are in. A brief stint at #1 in the country earlier this season showed they can be taken serious as a contender. But what if they lose for a second time to Auburn? Would a 2-loss Bulldogs team be considered for the final four? Unlikely. They played 3 games this season against now ranked teams, with their two wins against then #24 Notre Dame and #17 Mississippi State. That isn’t enough of a resume for a 2-loss team to get in. They need a win to keep dancing.
Now, where it gets interesting, is how this game plays out and impacts Alabama. Contestants in back-to-back CFP finals, the Tide looked to be sleepwalking their way to the final four until Auburn stopped them in their tracks. Now, they sit at home in Tuscaloosa on Conference Championship weekend and watch their own destiny be controlled by other SEC teams. It is unlikely that the loser of the SEC title game gets in, but it’s up to the committee if they select a 2nd SEC team, one that isn’t even in the conference title game.
Last year, they allowed Ohio State in, and the Buckeyes didn’t play in the Big-10 title game, but then they got throttled by Clemson in the semifinals. Would they risk that again for a second year in a row? Bama’s resume includes a dominating performance against Florida State, back when they were a contender and had a healthy lineup, and a laundry list of opponents who warmed the bus up just shortly after kickoff. With only a handful of ranked opponents on their schedule, the committee will look at that as a factor. They were perfect all year long, with their only blemish being a 12-point loss to Auburn. The committee has a big decision to make. If Oklahoma and Wisconsin win their conference titles, it is hard to see Alabama getting in over either of them. If one of them lose, Nick Saban might just get in his 4th consecutive final fours.
Back to Georgia and Auburn, this game features some of the most exciting offenses in the SEC. The Bulldogs send both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel out as half backs, who have combined for 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. Signal caller Jake Fromm has quieted all of his critics and has put up a respectable 1,990 yards and a 167 rating.
The 10-2 Auburn Tigers have one dominate running back, but when you have Kerryon Johnson, that is all you need. This junior dominated the carries this season, amassing 1,276 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was the leader in the clubhouse once again last week when his 104 yards and touchdown upset the Alabama Tide in the Iron Bowl.
ACC – Miami at Clemson
The old veteran, Miami Hurricanes, and the reigning champion, Clemson Tigers, square off in this contest for not just the ACC championship, but also a spot in the final four. For Clemson, a win would birth them into the Semi Finals for the 3rd consecutive year, and for Miami, a victory would land them into the spotlight of the playoffs for their first time since the tournament began 4 seasons ago.
Everyone, including this writer, were willing to write off Clemson this year with DeShaun Watson and Mike Williams going to the NFL, but Dabo and his guys stayed true all season and ripped off an 11-1 record and currently sit atop the CFP Rankings. Their lone slip was against Syracuse, on a rare Friday night road trip, but big wins against Auburn and Virginia Tech proved them to be worthy of all the praise. Led by Kelly Bryant and his 3,000 yards of total offense, the Tigers might not be up to Watson’s standards offensively, but with the defense they have on the other side of the bench, they don’t need Bryant to be anything more than what he has been.
Miami was a sleeper early in the season, but as the weeks passed, and they began climbing the rankings, the Hurricanes became America’s Darling once again. After big wins against Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Virginia, the ‘Canes rose all the way to 2nd in the polls and the whole country was dancing with their turnover chains. They were destined not just for the title game, but also the CFP, until they ran into Pittsburgh on the road and dropped a disappointing 10-point loss. Now, at 10-1, they need an ACC championship to get into the next round of the playoffs. With a balanced offense, Malik Rosier should have plenty of weapons at his disposal to use this weekend, and he will need all of them against one of the country’s best defensive fronts.
Big 10 – Ohio State at Wisconsin
But Wisconsin’s resume isn’t good enough.
We heard that all season long as they continued a slow climb up the rankings. Now, they quietly sit in the top 4 as they await their Big 10 title game with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
12 games, 12 wins. What more does Paul Chryst and company need to do? They beat Iowa by 3 scores, Michigan by 14 and dominated Minnesota on the road in a 31-point shut out. All of their games were won by a margin over 8 points, meaning no team was even within a score at the end of the game. It’s time to give them their due respect. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook may not have the sexy stats of the other top quarterbacks like Mayfield or Barrett, but his 2,100 yards passing and 21 touchdowns accompany the nation’s best 12-wins nicely. On the ground, they counter with Jonathan Taylor, who ripped off 1,800 yards on over 250 carries. If the Badgers win, they are in the Semi Finals. If they lose, well, the committee has already shown us their opinion on the Badgers resume. It would be tough to suddenly convince them otherwise that now a potential 1-loss Wisconsin team would be better than a 1-loss Alabama, or even a potential 2-loss Georgia or Clemson.
The nation’s biggest mystery stands across the field on the other sidelines. College football’s only 2-loss team with a shot, albeit a long one, to get into the semifinals, will need a dominant Big-10 game to get there, which is something the Buckeyes are capable of doing.
A week 2 loss to then #5 Oklahoma dropped the Bucks in the rankings, but 6 consecutive wins, including a 1-point win against then #2 Penn State shot them back into contention. That was until they went on a road trip to Iowa and lost by 31. Urben Meyer and company turned it around in the final month, beating Michigan State and Michigan in impressive fashion, and now sit outside the top 4. JT Barrett has been Mr. Buckeye for the last 4 years and has saved his best for last, piling up 2,700 yards in the air, 672 on the ground and a total of 42 touchdowns. Look for him to have the game of his career on Saturday, and they will need it against this tough Wisconsin defense.
For Meyer and Barrett, they need not just a win in the Big-10 title to get into the playoffs, but a big one. They also need some help. A TCU win over Oklahoma, would leave the committee deciding which 2-loss conference champion is better, and of course there is always the question of whether a 2-loss Big-10 champion would jump a 1-loss Alabama team who sites outside of the conference title game.
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