I can’t believe it’s conference championship weekend. One of my first college football memories of the year was Pat McAfee doing his schtick on TV during the UCLA-Cincinnati game on the opening Thursday, followed by my Old Man angrily texting me about the Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, or DTR for short. “DTR?!!?” he said. “What the hell is DTR? HE HASN’T EARNED A NICKNAME YET!!!!” Yes, because it’s MUCH easier for the announcers to say “Thompson-Robinson” 5,000 times a broadcast. This is who raised me.
My Old Man was also extremely adamant that I pick EVERY championship game, or all ten of them, this week. Yes, because I’m sure people actually care about my opinion on who wins the Conference USA Championship Game.
What’s that? No one cares about any of my opinions? Hey! Come on, now you sound like my wife!
Sun Belt- Louisiana at #21 Appalachian State
The Ragin’ Cajuns hosted App State on October 9 and lost 17-7. Depending on what happens in the other championship games, the Mountaineers could potentially be playing for a berth in the Cotton Bowl here, which would happen if they finished as the highest ranked Group of Five team. App State is better, is hosting the game, and has more to play for.
Prediction: Appalachian State
MAC Championship- Miami (OH) vs Central Michigan (in Detroit)
The MAC doesn’t have a bowl pecking order, so the winner of the this game could theoretically go to Cheribundi Tart Cherry Bowl, the Dollar General Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, or the Quick Lane Bowl. Or in other words, games no one cares about.
Prediction: Central Michigan
Sun Belt- UAB at Florida Atlantic
Tennessee played and beat UAB earlier last month. The Blazers have a good, stout defense, particularly for a Group of Five team. Meanwhile, there’s the host FAU, led by Lane Kiffin, who is perpetually in head coaching rumors. Hey Lane, a little advice here… if Arkansas offers you the job, don’t take it. That place sucks and they aren’t close to winning. The same goes for Ole Miss, only the Rebels are more dysfunctional and have out of whack expectations for what they’ve been historically. You want to totally sour and destroy your reputation? Go to one of those schools and run off a three year SEC record of 5-19 and get fired. That’s a really likely scenario even if you come in and do everything right. I wouldn’t necessarily want the Missouri job either, but of the three open SEC jobs, it’s the best one. Is Lane a candidate at Florida State? That would be the job I’d want if I were him.
As for tomorrow’s game, hell, why not UAB and their defense?
Mountain West- Hawaii at #19 Boise State
These two also played earlier in the year in Boise, and the Broncos won by 22. Boise, like App State, could theoretically make the Cotton Bowl, depending on what happens in the American Conference Championship.
It’s going to be rainy and in the mid 40s tomorrow for this game. I have my doubts about this warm weather Hawaii team traveling that far north and beating a team that they lost to by three touchdowns to earlier in the season.
Prediction: Boise State
American- #20 Cincinnati at #17 Memphis
These two just played a week ago in Memphis and the Tigers won by 10. What, if anything, can Cincy conjure up in a week to combat what happened last Saturday?
The winner here is more than likely going to the Cotton Bowl.
Pac 12- #5 Utah vs Oregon (in Santa Clara)
This one is actually tonight at 8 on ABC, and comes with a probable playoff berth on the line for the Utes, assuming LSU beats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
11-1 Utah has won every game this season by at least 18 points, outside of their loss at USC and their narrow 5 point win on the road at Washington. Oregon sandwiched 9 straight wins between a loss in their opener against Oregon and their upset defeat at Arizona State two weeks ago.
I’m not sure that Utah is one of the four best teams (they have no wins over teams that are currently ranked, and if they beat Oregon and make the playoff, they would be the first team to ever make the playoff with only one ranked win), but I’ve soured on Oregon and, in particular, their quarterback Justin Herbert, both of whom were awful in a big spot at Arizona State, before a late rally made the game seem more competitive than it actually was. Herbert has been… good this year? 31 TDs and 3,140 passing yards is nothing to sneeze at, but compared to someone like LSU’s Joe Burrow (44 TDs, 4,366 passing yards) he’s had a disappointing year, particularly for someone that many prognosticators have as the number 1 pick in the NFL draft.
I’ve seen Oregon’s offense slog around too many times this year to have confidence in them to not have a stinker against Utah, the best defense they’ve played since Auburn.
Big 12- #7 Baylor vs #6 Oklahoma (in Arlington)
If Utah and Georgia lose, this could very well be a playoff play-in game. Oklahoma won the regular season meeting at Baylor, a game that saw the Sooners erase a 28-3 deficit. OU has the number 1 offense in the conference, and shockingly enough, also has the Big 12’s number 1 ranked defense. Yes yes, I know that’s like being the tallest of Santa’s Christmas Elves, but they were near the bottom of the country in every defensive metric last year and have rebounded to respectability in one season. It just goes to show how good of a job first year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has done.
Personally, I think Oklahoma is better than Utah. They are certainly much more dynamic on offense, and while their defense isn’t great, they’ve only had one real stinker this year, the Kansas State game where they gave up points on eight straight drives. But I don’t have to go by just the eye test; if the Sooners win tomorrow, they’ll have wins over three ranked teams, and two of them over a Baylor team that lost to no one else the entirety of the year. Now obviously, the committee doesn’t see it that way, or OU would be ranked ahead of Utah today.
What if Oklahoma pounded Baylor by four touchdowns, while Utah slogged their way through Oregon and only won by three points? Would that be enough for the committee to jump the Sooners over the Utes? Ohio State was killer in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game, and that victory propelled them from #6 to #4 in a single weekend.
Sidenote: My Old Man predicts that OU’s Lincoln Riley will be the next Dallas Cowboys head coach. It makes sense. Jerry Jones has gone to the college ranks before (including with Barry Switzer, also from Oklahoma, the last Dallas coach to win the Super Bowl and make the NFC Championship Game), and Riley is young and doesn’t have a ton of ego yet, meaning he probably wouldn’t bow his back up as much when Jerry decides he needs to call into local Dallas radio and have a thirty minute phone conversation about the team on Monday every week.
Of course, I don’t know how Lincoln Riley is going to solve the organizational dysfunction in Dallas. The four most important people in an NFL operation are the owner, the GM, the head coach, and the quarterback. Teams who win consistently are good in all four of those areas. Sometimes, you are able to overcome a deficiency in one of those areas and still win, but your margin for error becomes significantly lower. Dallas is good enough at quarterback with Dak, and if they hired Lincoln Riley, that’s an immediate upgrade over the expressionless ghost they have coaching them now in Jason Garrett, but even if the Dak-Riley marriage was perfect, how the hell are those two going to overcome their kooky owner/GM situation? Jerry has a press conference after every game. Name another owner that does that. Jerry calls into Dallas radio and undermines his head coach. Just this week, Garrett told the media that the team was probably going to be looking at making a kicking change. Jerry told the media that they’d be doing no such thing. How could any coach succeed in that situation? I don’t think Garrett is even a good NFL coach, but come on.
Jerry is a great businessman, and he’s an important owner for the NFL’s brand, but he’s been a terrible owner for his own football team ever since he basically fired Jimmy Johnson because his own ego was too large.
ACC- #23 Virginia vs #3 Clemson (in Charlotte)
What do you want me to say about this game? Is Virginia really the 23rd best team in the country? Does anyone believe that? Clemson has won their last seven games by 31 points or more, and statistically, their defense is better than last year. Trevor Lawrence hasn’t thrown an interception since October 19th, and that aforementioned defense has only given up 47 points in their last 7 games. Congratulations Virginia on finally exorcising all your Virginia Tech demons last week, but Saturday night is going to be a throttling.
Big Ten- #1 Ohio State vs #8 Wisconsin (in Indianapolis)
These teams played in October in Columbus and the Buckeyes won 38-7. No team in the current Big Ten West has won the conference since Wisconsin in 2012, and that was the year that Ohio State went 12-0 but couldn’t play for the title due to NCAA sanctions. The big boy football programs in this conference are all in the East Division, and this Ohio State team has a chance to be the best in the history of their storied program. I don’t think they’ll have any trouble handling Wisconsin again.
The spread here is Ohio State -16. Are they going to be 15 points worse on a neutral field than they were in this same matchup two months ago? I don’t see it. Buckeyes -16 is the Bet The Mortgage Pick of the Week. This is free money.
Prediction: Ohio State
SEC- #4 Georgia vs #2 LSU
I feel really strongly about LSU here. Georgia needs the game more (they won’t be in the playoff without a victory here), but I’m not sure their offense is going to be good enough to take advantage of what has been a really mediocre Tiger defense. LSU also only gave up 7 points last week in their demolition of Texas A&M, their best defensive showing of the year. To make matters worse for Georgia, they'll be without one of their best receivers in the first half, George Pickens, who got suspended for fighting in the Ga Tech game last week. His absence will only further ground their already stale attack. LSU is going to load up in the box to stop the run and dare Jake Fromm to throw over the top of them. I’m not sure he’ll be able to. He certainly hasn’t shown that level of passing acumen all year.
I get it, Atlanta is closer to Athens than it is to Baton Rouge, but is this really going to be a “home” game for Georgia? Like sure, they’ll probably be more ‘Dawg fans there, but Georgia had this same “advantage” against Alabama in Atlanta in 2017 National Championship Game and the 2018 SEC Championship Game and lost both times.
No one has been able to slow down Joe Burrow and the Tiger offense all year. Will Georgia suddenly have the magic elixir? LSU has scored 36 or more points in 11 of their 12 games. Even if the Bulldogs were able to hold LSU to their season low in points of 23 (that came against Auburn), are we sure Georgia would be able to score that many? They only got to 30 or more points three times this year against Power 5 opponents, and none of the teams they scored that many against finished with more than 7 wins.
Enjoy football this weekend! You deserve it!