It’s conference championship weekend in college football! I can’t believe we’re already here. It seems like just yesterday that I was writing my “2018 College Football Meat Sandwich” and nailing all my preseason predictions like…. (checks notes)… Michigan State making the playoff. Oh wait, crap, I’m an idiot.
For the first time ever, all ten conferences on the FBS level are going to have a league championship game. I wasn’t aware of that, because spoiler, I don’t exactly spend a lot of my time watching MAC football. Hate to disappoint you guys, but it’s true. For some reason though, my Angry Old Man, who is so old and senile that I’m surprised he even knows how to work a TV anymore, implored me yesterday to pick all ten conference championships games with the threat that he’d write me out of the will if I “disappointed him again”. “If you don’t pick all ten conference championship games tomorrow, you’ll be the biggest disappointment in my life since, hell, your older brother!” he told me, before he started stuffing his face with Cheetos until he passed out in a puddle of his own spittle and cheese residue. My loving Pa. It’s fine. This is a normal father-son relationship right? Right?
MAC Championship: Northern Illinois vs Buffalo (in Detroit)
Buffalo is a 3.5 point favorite and has ten wins for the first time in school history. Northern Illinois is 7-5 and their claim to fame on the national college football stage is that time they played Florida State in the 2013 Orange Bowl and lost 31-10. Whoops, that’s all I know.
Pac 12 Championship: #17 Utah vs #11 Washington (in Santa Clara)
The Huskies lost three times this year by a combined ten points. If they don’t blow the Auburn game with back-to-back red zone turnovers or miss a potential game-winning field goal on the last play of regulation against Oregon, this could very well be a playoff play-in game for Washington. Instead, they’ll be settling for a shot at a conference championship, their second in three years. I think they’ll get it done. Utah has had a nice year, but you could argue they're in this position by just being less bad then the rest of the teams in the Pac 12 South, which was arguably the worst division in the Power 5 this season. I’m struggling to find a good win on the Utah schedule; BYU last week, where they came back from 20 at halftime? 7-4 Stanford? They lost to Washington State and Arizona, and when they played this same Washington team earlier in the season, they, you guessed it, were defeated 21-7. I think we’ll have a similar result tonight.
Sun Belt: Louisiana at Appalachian State
This is the first ever Sun Belt Championship Game, and also a rematch of a game earlier this season that App State won 27-17. I’d be tempted to take the “Ragin’ Cajuns” here, only because that’s an awesome team nickname, but it's at App State’s home stadium, and in a game between two teams that I’ve probably watched a combined 30 minutes of, that’s good enough reason to go with the Mountaineers.
Prediction: Appalachian State
Conference USA: UAB at MTSU
The craziest thing about this game is that UAB got rid of football for two years (2015 and 2016), revived the program just last year, and have already found a way to return to the championship game of their conference in just their second season back. Not that it’ll make a difference tomorrow, of course, but good for them right?
American Conference: Memphis at #8 UCF
Can UCF make the playoff? Should they even really be considered? I’d say no to both of those questions due to their lack of quality Power 5 wins coupled with the fact that they lost their star quarterback McKenzie Milton to a horrifying knee injury last weekend. Does anyone really want to see them travel to Arlington to play Alabama in a semifinal game and get their doors blown off? How is that great for the viewer? Sure, Alabama might destroy anyone they play in that game, but I think Kyler Murray and Oklahoma or Dwayne Haskins and Ohio State and would have a better chance of pulling off a shocking upset due to their similar athletes and overall team speed. Plus, both of those teams have significantly better resumes. Like even if Georgia, Oklahoma, and Ohio State all lost this weekend, I still can’t see an argument for putting UCF in if they win their league. Like great, their best win would be… five loss Pittsburgh? Come on. Everyone is always like, “Oh, we should give the little guy a shot!” But why? They haven’t earned it and they don’t come close to fulfilling the standard of “four best teams”. And when they'd get blown out by 35 points against Alabama, we’d all feel stupid for ever thinking to include them.
Of course, winning the conference tomorrow won’t be easy. When they played Memphis earlier this season, the Golden Knights surrendered almost 500 yards of offense and had to rally from down 16 late in the second quarter to pull off a 31-30 victory. Memphis isn’t going to roll over for them here either, though I ultimately think UCF will win and play in a New Years Six Bowl Game for the second consecutive year.
Mountain West: #25 Fresno State at #22 Boise State
This isn’t your father’s Boise State team of a decade ago that used to play in BCS bowls, but they also haven’t lost since October 6 and already beat Fresno State a month ago.
Prediction: Boise State
Big 12: #14 Texas vs #5 Oklahoma (in Arlington)
Lot at stake here for both teams. Texas hasn’t won a conference title since 2009 with Colt McCoy and Mack Brown, and pulling it off in Tom Herman’s second year while beating Oklahoma for the second time in the same season would be an incredible building block for this program that has been wandering in the wilderness the last decade. For Oklahoma, it’d be their fourth straight Big 12 Title and sixth since 2010, and with a loss by Georgia, probably puts them in the playoff. It also should lock up the Heisman for Kyler Murray, though I think the voters will end up going with Tua.
The argument here for Murray winning the Heisman is simple; he’s the most valuable player in the country. He’s saddled with an absolutely atrocious defense, probably the worst of any team that’s ever been in playoff contention, which has forced him to be exceptional every single week; hell, he guided the offense to 59 points last week at West Virginia and they still only won by three. He hasn’t had a stinker the entire year despite the fact that he knows going into every game that he’ll need to score in the 40s.
Crazy stat here; in the month of November alone, the Sooners gave up 189 points. For some context, including their two playoff games from last season, Alabama has given up just 194 points in the 2018 calendar year. Good lord.
This game is going to be another shootout, just like it was back in October when Texas won 48-45 on a last second field goal after Oklahoma erased a 21 point fourth quarter deficit. I think the Sooners win the rematch because of the superior head coach-quarterback combo, though the score will probably be 51-50. And if they do, get ready for Oklahoma-Alabama, probably at Jerry World. That’s going to be a hell of a game even if the Tide will probably put up 70 on them.
Big Ten: #21 Northwestern vs #6 Ohio State (in Indianapolis)
Northwestern is making their first appearance in the Big Ten Title Game despite losing all three of their out of conference games. They somehow only beat one team that finished with less than five losses, and that was four loss Iowa. Why isn’t this game 51-17 tomorrow in favor of Ohio State? The Buckeyes are fresh off their best game of the season, and absolute demolition of rival Michigan, and need a good showing in this one if they want a shot at making the playoff.
Assuming things play out the way I think this weekend, the Buckeyes are going to come up a spot short in the playoff for the second year in a row. The committee is going to look at both them and Oklahoma, two teams with flawed resumes, and say, “Hell, I know OU’s defense sucks, but their only loss was by three points on a neutral field to a Texas team that finished second in the Big 12. And oh yeah, they just avenged that loss by winning this weekend. Ohio State’s loss was by 29 on the road against a 6-6 Purdue team. Plus, it’s not like Ohio State’s defense is phenomenal either. I mean, we all saw that Maryland game. And they did still give up 39 points to Michigan’s limited offense….”
Prediction: Ohio State
ACC: Pittsburgh vs #2 Clemson (in Charlotte)
This is the blowout of the weekend. You might’ve missed it with all the great college football from last weekend, but Pittsburgh managed just 3 points against a crappy Miami team last Saturday. Why won’t this one be 75-10? Here’s the scores of Clemson’s last five ACC games: 63-3, 41-7, 59-10, 77-16, and 27-7. That’s a combined 267-43!
Side note: not breaking any news here, but how incredible has Dabo Swinney been? He’s about to take Clemson to their fourth straight playoff and ACC Title, he’s won a national championship, had 8 straight ten win seasons, and is an incredible 61-6 in his last 67 games. 61-6! For comparison, in his last 67 games at Alabama, Nick Saban is only slightly better, at 63-4. No one could’ve ever envisioned Dabo getting it rolling to this level a decade ago when he got promoted from being the wide receivers coach. My Angry Old Man, with his coldest take ever, even said back when he got the job that “no one named Dabo Swinney can be a successful Division 1 head coach”. Right on there Pops. Oh crap, a shot like that might get me taken out of the will as well. Crap… hopefully he got irritated at the amount of typos I had this week, raged, tossed his phone across the room, and went back to stuffing his face with Thanksgiving leftovers.
SEC: #4 Georgia vs #1 Alabama (in Atlanta)
The game of the weekend, at least on paper, is the rematch of last year’s overtime thriller in the national championship game that made Tua a college football legend. The Tide have slept-walked through the first halves of their last couple of games, including a weird 10-10 tie with the Citadel and only a 17-14 lead on a bad Auburn team last week. Sure, they opened it up significantly in the second halves of both games, but I wouldn’t think they’d want to get off to a slow start against a Georgia team that seems to have fixed all their issues and might be playing better than any team in the country right now. The ‘Dawgs have won every game by at least 17 points since their lone loss to LSU back on October 13th.
Of course, I could argue the Tide have come out so slow the last couple of weeks because they’re bored with everything right now. No matter how sloppy they play, no opponent has been able to come within 22 points of them the entire season, and it’s got to be difficult for Saban to continue to push the right motivational buttons for a team that wins by three touchdowns every week, even with their C+ game. I’d think the SEC Championship Game against the fourth ranked team in the country would be enough to snap them out of their recent malaise, but we’ll see.
There’s a ton at stake here for the entirety of college football. If Georgia loses then they’re out and it’s the end of the discussion. But if they were to shock the world and beat Alabama, then what the hell does the committee do? I think Alabama would be in because they’d be favored over both Oklahoma and Ohio State by… ten points? I just think it’d be really hard for the committee to overlook that when they put together their final rankings on Sunday.
Of course, I don’t think it’s ultimately going to matter because I think the Tide win by double digits tomorrow.
Which means I think this is our Playoff Four:
#1 Alabama vs #4 Oklahoma
#2 Clemson vs #3 Notre Dame
Can’t wait for this weekend and the playoff!