College Football Conference Championship Games

By Jack Woodard, Sports Editor

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It truly is a great time to be a college football fan.  Bowl season is just around the corner and the race for the College Football Playoff is narrowing down.  However, before we get to all of that, we must get past Conference Championship Week. This weekend, two teams from every conference will battle for the top spot in their respective conferences and us fans can sit back and watch all day.  These games are going to be even-matched for the most part and exhilarating to watch.

 

PAC-12 Championship: #5 Utah (11-1) vs. #13 Oregon (10-2)

Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California

Friday December 6, 8:00 p.m. E.T. on ABC

The action starts on Friday night and we are in store for a good one here.  Utah is looking to add to their resume for the Playoff and win their first ever PAC-12 Championship, while Oregon will look to finish the season on top of the PAC-12 for the 12th time.  Utah comes into this game on the outside of the College Football Playoff but many are predicting that a win for them in this game will put them into the Playoff. The Utes will look to rebound after a 10-3 loss to Washington in  last year’s PAC-12 Championship. Utah is led by senior quarterback Tyler Huntley who is having an outstanding season. Huntley has thrown for 2,773 yards on the year and has the 5th best QBR in the nation at 87.5. While Huntley’s touchdown numbers won’t jump out at you (only 16 on the year), his lack of interceptions certainly will (2 for the whole season).  The fans in Provo are even urging Heisman voters to give Huntley a trip to New York. Huntley has star running back Zack Moss in the backfield with him as well. Moss has 1,246 yards on the year, averaging 6.2 yards per carry, to go along with 15 touchdowns. These two seniors are the keys to Utah’s offense in this game. On the defensive end,Utah is shutting down opponents, allowing only 11.3 points per game.  Oregon, led by senior quarterback Justin Herbert, will look to crack the Utes’ defense. Herbert is the motor to this Ducks offense and may even be the first quarterback selected in the draft. Herbert has 3,140 yards on the year with 31 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. This game features two elite quarterbacks and should be a great one to watch.

Jack’s pick: Utah

 

Big 12 Championship: #7 Baylor (11-1) vs. #6 Oklahoma (11-1)

AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

Saturday December 7, 12:00 p.m. E.T. on ABC

The long-awaited rematch has arrived and the stakes are raised even higher.  The last time these two teams met was on November 16 and Oklahoma came away with a 34-31 victory over Baylor.  This game was one of the most iconic of the college football season as Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma came back from a 28-3 deficit to defeat the Bears.  Both of these teams are now looking to claim the Big 12 title and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. Both quarterbacks in this game are absolutely electric, Jalen Hurts from Oklahoma with 3,347 passing yards and 31 touchdowns and Charlie Brewer of Baylor with 2,935 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, and will look to lead their teams to victories.  It is worth noting that Jalen Hurts not only leads the Sooners in passing yards but also rushing yards with 1,217 yards to go along with 18 touchdowns. Hurts has an astounding 49 touchdowns on the season! Brewer’s favorite target is Denzel Mims who has made big plays all year and will look to make even more on Saturday. Oklahoma also has CeeDee Lamb, who in my opinion, is the best receiver in college football.  Lamb has 14 touchdowns and 1,035 yards on the year. These two teams both have outstanding coaches in the offensive mastermind Lincoln Riley and the man who brought back Baylor football, Matt Rhule. Expect offense galore in this game from two teams that are still in the hunt for the College Football Playoff.

Jack’s pick: Oklahoma

 

Sun Belt Championship: Louisiana (10-2) at #21 Appalachian State (11-1)

Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina

Saturday December 7, 12:00 p.m. E.T. on ESPN

This game is easy to overlook to many people but those that take a few minutes to watch it are going to witness two very good football teams.  Appalachian State has become a Group of 5 powerhouse since joining the FBS in 2014. Appalachian State is also still quietly in the running to be the nation’s best Group of 5 school this season.  The Mountaineers are led by quarterback Zac Thomas who has 24 touchdowns on the season. This is a rematch of last year’s Sun Belt Championship which was also the first ever Sun Belt Championship game.  Louisiana’s Ragin Cajuns will look to pull off the upset and avenge last season’s 30-19 loss. This game is also a rematch of the game played on October 9 which Appalachian State won 17-7. Both of these offenses are electric but will it be another defensive battle like we saw earlier in the year?

Jack’s pick: Appalachian State

 

MAC Championship: Miami (OH) (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (8-4)

Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan

Saturday December 7, 12:00 p.m. E.T. on ESPN2

The MAC usually has some very good teams with great records playing in the championship game and while these two teams may not have the best records, they certainly are very good.  The MAC was the most competitive conference all year, with almost all of its teams in the running to make the championship game in the last couple weeks. Central Michigan edged out the competitors in the MAC West under first year head coach Jim McElwain and Miami (OH) won the East.  Miami (OH) comes into this game looking to bounce back from a loss to a lowly Ball State team and a 3 point win over Akron, the worst team in the FBS with an 0-12 record. Central Michigan comes into this game on a three game win streak which saw them put up 45+ points in each game. The Chippewas clinched the MAC West last week in blowout fashion with a 49-7 thrashing of Toledo.

Jack’s pick: Central Michigan

 

Conference USA Championship: UAB (9-3) at Florida Atlantic (9-3)

FAU Football Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida

Saturday December 7, 1:30 p.m. E.T. on CBS Sports Network

This game features the last two champions of the Conference USA in UAB and Florida Atlantic.  UAB won the championship game last year over Middle Tennessee by a score of 27-25 and FAU won the 2017 championship game 41-17 over North Texas.  UAB has won some very close games this year and is an experienced team in the 4th quarter. The Blazers biggest flaw is that they play in one of the worst divisions in college football, the Conference USA West, with teams like North Texas, Rice, UTSA, and UTEP.  UAB was able to beat these teams as they should, however. Florida Atlantic has dominated most of their opponents in wins this year and has become a very exciting team to watch under 3rd year head coach Lane Kiffin. Sophomore quarterback Chris Robinson has developed very well under Kiffin’s system and leads the offense with 3,129 passing yards and 22 touchdowns.  This game will be fun to tune into for those who do not know too much about these teams.

Jack’s pick: Florida Atlantic

 

American Athletic Conference Championship: #20 Cincinnati (10-2) at #17 Memphis (11-1)

Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee

Saturday December 7, 3:30 p.m. E.T. on ABC

This is one of the more unique games this weekend as these two teams played each other last week at the same time in the same place.  Memphis clinched a berth and home-field advantage in the American Athletic Conference Championship with last week’s 34-24 win. This game could very likely decide the best Group of 5 team in the nation and both teams will look for bragging rights in their conference.  Cincinnati will look to win its first AAC championship in its first ever appearance. On the other hand, Memphis is making its third appearance and third straight appearance in the AAC championship, looking to avenge two heartbreaking losses in the previous two. Last year Memphis fell to UCF by a score of 56-41 and two years ago they suffered a heartbreaker against UCF by a score of 62-55 in double overtime.  Memphis has one of the most electric offenses in the country, scoring just over 41 points per game and are led by quarterback Brady White who has 3,307 yards and 32 touchdowns through the air on the season. The Tigers’ only loss of the year came by 2 to Temple. Last week, Cincinnati played Memphis close with their backup quarterback, Ben Bryant playing. The Bearcats starter, Desmond Ridder, was out with a shoulder injury and will most likely return for the AAC championship game.  The Bearcats will be a tough out with their quarterback healthy, but can they stop Memphis’s high-flying offensive attack?

Jack’s pick: Memphis

 

SEC Championship: #4 Georgia (11-1) vs. #2 LSU (12-0)

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia

Saturday December 7, 4:00 p.m. E.T. on CBS

This is the most anticipated game of the weekend and for good reason.  Both of these teams have proven themselves worthy of the Playoff but after Saturday, only one may remain in it.  One thing is certain, at least one of these teams will make the College Football Playoff. Georgia would certainly be in with a win and LSU might even still be in it with a loss.  LSU has arguably the best offense in the country while Georgia has arguably the best defense in the country. The Tigers score 48.7 points per game while the Bulldogs allow 10.4 points per game.  Georgia has not let up more than 21 points on the year and LSU has scored at least 42 points in every game except two on the year. Something has to give. Joe Burrow is the best quarterback in college football, hands down, and is completely deserving of the Heisman.  Burrow has thrown for 4,366 yards and 44 touchdowns on the year for LSU. The guy is a freak of nature. Burrow has lit up every defense that has been put in front of him and has shown no signs of slowing down. It also helps when you have a running back like Clyde Edwards-Helaire and receivers like Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson on your side.  LSU’s offense is electric and it will be very tough for Georgia to stop them. Georgia has good offensive players like quarterback Jake Fromm and running back D’Andre Swift, but credit has to be given to this Bulldogs defense. Richard LeCounte and J.R. Reed have been fantastic at safety along with other defensive backs while the linebackers and linemen have absolutely smashed opponents up front.  Georgia is an old-school, hard-hitting, defensive football team and LSU is a high-powered, modern, offensive scoring machine. This game will be one for the ages.

Jack’s pick: LSU

 

Mountain West Championship: Hawai’i (9-4) at #19 Boise State (11-1)

Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho

Saturday December 7, 4:00 p.m. E.T. on ESPN

This game promises to be a good one as both of these teams are used to scoring points at will.  These two squads met on October 12, with Boise State coming out on top 59-37. Boise State is a heavy favorite in this game and it will be tough for the Rainbow Warriors to travel to frigid Boise and try to knock off the Broncos, but do not count them out.  Hawai’i uses the run and shoot offense and coach Nick Rolovich likes to spread the field with five receivers and sling the ball around all game. Hawaii’s offense is one of the most exciting in the country to watch and the Rainbow Warriors have the best quarterback room you’ve never heard about.  Cole McDonald and Chevan Cordeiro are both outstanding quarterbacks and they each will likely take reps in this game. When one of these guys is struggling, Rolovich puts in the other until he starts struggling and then changes them again. Cole McDonald is officially the starter and is the best quarterback you’ve never heard of.  I told anyone that would listen to me before the season started that Cole McDonald is my sleeper quarterback in college football (just like I did last year with Gardner Minshew II and look how that turned out) and McDonald has not disappointed. McDonald has 3,401 yards through the air along with 29 passing touchdowns and 6 rushing touchdowns.  McDonald’s only knock is that he is very inconsistent as he has 13 interceptions on the year (including one game with 4 despite having 378 yards and 4 touchdowns in that same game). McDonald is a junior and will continue to grow next year as well. Chevan Cordeiro is a solid backup and started their last game against Army because McDonald missed practice earlier in the week with an illness.  Cordeiro got hurt and was replaced by McDonald in that same game. These two are dangerous and Hawaii’s offense is very good. Boise State will look to beat the Rainbow Warriors for the second time this year. Jaylon Henderson will start for the Broncos at quarterback which has been a struggling position for them all year. Boise State is a great team all around and is still playing for a New Year’s Six Bowl game.  The Broncos have been waiting for this game since last year’s loss in the championship to Fresno State. Boise State is looking for their third Mountain West Championship while Hawai’i is looking for their first. This game will have some offensive fireworks and by no stretch of the imagination should Hawai’i be counted out here.

Jack’s pick: Hawai’i

 

ACC Championship: #23 Virginia (9-3) vs. #3 Clemson (12-0)

Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina

Saturday December 7, 7:30 p.m. E.T. on ABC

Clemson is undefeated and feels as though they have been overlooked this whole season.  The Tigers have had a relatively easy schedule but have taken care of business in every game so far this season.  Trevor Lawrence is an outstanding quarterback, even though many people seem to have forgotten about him this year.  Lawrence has thrown for 30 touchdowns and 2,870 yards on the season. Lawrence delivered some of his best performances in the College Football Playoff last year, so he is used to clutch performances and will look to have another in this game as well.  Travis Etienne is one of the best running backs in college football as he has 1,386 yards and 16 touchdowns on the year. He has run all over opposing defenses and nobody has been able to stop him. Clemson has won the last 4 ACC championships and the defending National Champions will look to keep the streak going.  On the other side, Virginia is making their first ever appearance in the ACC title game after beating rival Virginia Tech for the spot last week. Virginia’s key to success is Bryce Perkins, plain and simple. Perkins has almost 3,000 passing yards on the year and he is also Virginia’s leading rusher. Perkins can do it all for this offense and is very dangerous in the open field.  Perkins can run the read option very effectively and defenses need to be aware of his play-action ability as well. Virginia will look to keep the magic of this season going and knock off Clemson, who have been the kings of the ACC in recent years.

Jack’s pick: Clemson

 

Big Ten Championship: #1 Ohio State (12-0) vs. #8 Wisconsin (10-2)

Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana

Saturday December 7, 8:00 p.m. E.T. on FOX

Ohio State has been untouchable this year and has barely even had to play their starters in the fourth quarter of many games.  Wisconsin got a taste of this on October 26 when the Buckeyes blew them out of the water by a score of 38-7. Wisconsin will look for revenge here and will look for star running back Jonathan Taylor (1,761 yards and 20 touchdowns on the year) to carry the load for this offense.  They need to have a near perfect game offensively and defensively to beat Ohio State. Ohio State looks like the best team in the nation and certainly has three of the best players in the nation in Chase Young, J.K. Dobbins, and Justin Fields, all of whom are receiving Heisman attention.  Chase Young may be one of the greatest all-time talents that college football has ever seen. Offensive linemen see this 6’5, 265 pound monster in their nightmares. Young is nearly impossible for offensive tackles to block alone when rushing off the edge and almost always gets double teamed, and still finds ways to win.  Young set the all-time single-season sack record at Ohio State with 16.5 sacks, and he even missed two games. Chase Young is an absolute animal and will be a hot commodity come draft time. Justin Fields is an amazing quarterback for Ohio State with 48 total touchdowns on the year. Fields can do it through the air and on the ground and is very hard for defenses to stop.  J.K. Dobbins is one of the top 5 running backs in the country with 1,657 yards on the year and 21 total touchdowns. It is almost unheard of to have 3 players that are this good on one team but Ohio State has it right now. This game could get ugly early, again.

Jack’s pick: Ohio State

 

College football fans, cross off all plans you had for this weekend starting on Friday night and sit back and enjoy these games.  These teams are the cream of the crop of their conferences and the games are sure to be exciting.