College Football Conference Championship Recaps

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College Football Conference Championship Recaps

Ohio State players celebrate after defeating Wisconsin 34-21 in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Ohio State players celebrate after defeating Wisconsin 34-21 in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Ohio State players celebrate after defeating Wisconsin 34-21 in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Ohio State players celebrate after defeating Wisconsin 34-21 in the Big Ten Championship Game.

By Jack Woodard, Sports Editor

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One of the best weekends to be a college football fan, conference championship weekend, has wrapped up and now fans can turn their attention towards bowl season.  In case you missed any of the great games being played, this article will give you a recap of everything.

The PAC-12 Championship game was played on Friday and was the only game of the night, so fans were able to devote their full attention to this game.  Utah came into this game ranked 5th in the country and many were projecting that with a win, they would be into the College Football Playoff. Oregon wanted to play spoiler to these plans and capture the PAC-12 Championship and a bid to the Rose Bowl.  Maybe Utah didn’t get the memo that they were playing on Friday instead of Saturday, because the Utes came out completely flat and got blown away in the first half of the game. Utah did not look like a team that was playing for a trip to the College Football Playoff.  Utah started off well on their opening drive, however, and drove the ball down to the Oregon 33 before being stuffed on 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 to forfeit possession to the Ducks. Justin Herbert and Oregon immediately drove down the field and CJ Verdell ran into the endzone from 3 yards out to give the Ducks a 7-0 lead.  After a 3-and-out and a 50 yard strike from Justin Herbert to Juwan Johnson, Oregon kicked a 23 yard field goal to go up 10-0. Early in the second, Justin Herbert struck again, this time to Johnny Johnson III for a 45 yard touchdown and a 17-0 lead. Oregon would add another field goal and led 20-0 at the half. The Utes were shocked.  The second half did not get much better for Utah, despite scoring on their first drive. The Utes cut the lead to 23-15 late in the third quarter after a touchdown and a two-point conversion but could not get any closer. Oregon added two more touchdowns in the fourth to win the game by a score of 37-15. Justin Herbert was 14-26 for 193 yards and a touchdown on the night while Tyler Huntley was 17-29 for 193 yards and touchdowns, with two interceptions to go along.  CJ Verdell had a monster of a game for Oregon with 18 carries, 208 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Utah could have clinched a spot in the playoff with a win but instead will play in the Alamo Bowl against Texas on December 31. Oregon clinched a spot in the Rose Bowl Game and will play Wisconsin on New Year’s Day.

The action on Saturday kicked off with the much-anticipated rematch between Baylor and Oklahoma.  The two met earlier in the year with Oklahoma coming back from a 28-3 deficit to win 34-31. This one would be another thriller.  Oklahoma jumped out to an early 10-0 lead after a huge CeeDee Lamb catch led to a touchdown and a Baylor fumble led to a field goal for the Sooners.  Charlie Brewer would leave the game in the first half for Baylor to be evaluated for concussions symptoms and would not return. Baylor would end the half on a 13-0 run to take a 13-10 lead into the break.  Gerry Bohanon came in to play quarterback for the Bears and chucked up a miracle touchdown on 3rd and 20 to Tyquan Thornton for the Bears’ only touchdown of the half. Oklahoma immediately tied the game at 13 after a long drive on their first possession of the third quarter.  The Sooners put together some more points and had a 23-13 lead early in the fourth quarter. Give Baylor credit, as they did not quit once this entire game. Jacob Zeno came in to play quarterback after Baylor could not get much going with Bohanon and he made an immediate impact.  On his first passing attempt, Zeno connected with Trestan Ebner who did the rest and took an 81 yard reception the the house. The Bears would tack on a field goal to tie the game at 23 and Oklahoma would have one shot left. Could Jalen Hurts do it again? Could he lead his team to another fourth quarter comeback in a conference championship game?  Hurts led his offense to the Baylor 47 but stalled and the Sooners had to punt. This one would go to overtime. On Oklahoma’s first possession, they benefited from a facemask penalty after a CeeDee Lamb reception and Rhamondre Stevenson ran a 5 yard touchdown in for the Sooners. Baylor would have a chance to tie now. After two incompletions and a sack on Zeno, the Bears were facing a 4th and 20 and Zeno threw an incomplete pass.  Oklahoma celebrated as they won the Big 12 Championship 30-23. Jalen Hurts was 17-24 for 287 yards and a touchdown on the day. Hurts did throw an interception and struggled with ball security again as he lost a fumble. CeeDee Lamb had 8 receptions for 173 yards. For Baylor, Jacob Zeno went 2-6 for 159 yards and a touchdown when he came in in relief of Gerry Bohanon. The Sooners clinched the 4 seed in the College Football Playoff and will face the number 1 ranked LSU Tigers in the Peach Bowl on December 28.  Baylor will look to cap off a very successful season on New Year’s Day with a win in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia.

One of the best games all day that people probably looked right past was the MAC Championship.  Central Michigan came into this game hot, scoring 42 plus points in their last couple games. Miami (OH) came into this with a suffocating defense and this promised to be a good one.  The game was very close throughout, with Central Michigan taking a 14-10 lead just before the half off of a strike from Quinten Dormady who scrambled and found Tyrone Scott in the endzone.  The second half saw Miami build a 23-14 lead with 4 minutes to go before Central Michigan fought back. The Chippewas scored with 1:24 left in the game to cut the lead to 2 and tried an onside kick.  This was it for CMU, their last chance, it seemed like. CMU lined up for the kick and was recovered by Rollian Sturkey for CMU, who picked it out of the air and ran it all the way into the endzone. This surely had to be the craziest ending to a conference championship game of all time.  Sturkey celebrated in the endzone, but failed to see the flag, all the way back at the kickoff line. Sturkey was called offside and upon further review, the penalty was blatantly obvious. Central Michigan pulled off a miracle that did not count. They lined up for the onside kick again and it went out of bounds before even crossing 10 yards.  Central Michigan may want to work on their onside recovery team before their bowl game. Miami killed clock and kicked a field goal to go up 26-21 with 30 seconds left. Central Michigan had one last chance and failed on a Hail Mary attempt from Quinten Dormady. Miami (OH) survived a thriller in the MAC Championship 26-21. For Central Michigan, Quinten Dormady went 26-41 for 232 yards on the day with a touchdown and an interception.  For Miami (OH), Brett Gabbert, brother of Blaine Gabbert, was 14-27 for 196 yards and a touchdown. Jack Sorenson of Miami (OH) had 123 receiving yards on 8 receptions for the game. Central Michigan will look forward to the New Mexico Bowl on December 21 when they take on San Diego State. As for Miami (OH), they will look to ride the success of this game into the LendingTree Bowl on January 6 against Louisiana. 

Speaking of Louisiana, the Sun Belt Championship game was also played at 12:00 on Saturday between Louisiana’s Ragin Cajuns and the Mountaineers of Appalachian State.  Appalachian State came into this game 11-1 and looking like one of the best Group of 5 teams in the nation. Louisiana came into this one with a vengeance, having lost last year’s Sun Belt Championship game to Appalachian State 30-19 (it was the first ever Sun Belt Championship game) and having lost a close one against Appalachian State earlier in the year 17-7.  Louisiana was out to prove something here. This game did not go anything like the first one as both offenses erupted early. Darryington Evans did it all for the Mountaineers early with 3 touchdowns (a 58 yard reception, 8 yard run, and a 5 yard reception) to lead Appalachian State to an early 21-0 lead in the first quarter. Louisiana’s quarterback, Levi Lewis, did it all for the Ragin Cajuns to try to keep them in this game and his team fought back to a 35-17 deficit at the half.  Lewis went 24-46 on the day for 354 yards and 4 touchdowns to just 1 interception in a great performance. Both teams scored in the third quarter and with 8 minutes to go, Appalachian State led 45-24. Levi Lewis and Louisiana were not done yet, however, as they scored two touchdowns in the final 5 minutes to cut the deficit to 45-38 with 1:19 left to play. Appalachian State recovered the onside kick and ran the clock out to win their second straight Sun Belt Championship. This game was an offensive lover’s dream and Mountaineer fans certainly feel relieved to have come out on top, despite star quarterback Zac Thomas going just 9-17 for 149 yards and 2 touchdowns on the day.    Louisiana will look to bounce back and defeat MAC Champion Miami (OH) in the LendingTree Bowl on January 6. Appalachian State will look to record 13 wins and solidify itself as a Group of 5 powerhouse in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on December 21 when they play UAB.  

Florida Atlantic and UAB battled it out for the Conference USA Championship, with both teams looking to win their second championship in the conference.  Florida Atlantic would be playing their last game with Lane Kiffin, who was named the coach of Ole Miss, in charge of this squad and the Owls wanted to win for Kiffin.  Lane Kiffin turned this program around and made them an elite football program in the Conference USA. This game further confirmed that. This one was a blowout from the start.  Florida Atlantic dominated the first half on defense and backed up this effort with plenty of touchdowns. FAU led 35-6 at halftime. The second half did not get much closer and there were plenty of other competitive games on at the time for fans to watch.  This one was never close. Florida Atlantic cruised to a 49-6 victory and sent Lane Kiffin out in style. Florida Atlantic quarterback Chris Robinson went 17-37 for 267 yards and 4 touchdowns with an interception on the day. Malcolm Davidson added 128 yards on the ground off of 11 carries for the Owls.  Florida Atlantic will face a very good SMU team in what will practically be a home game for them at the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl on December 21. UAB will hope to remain competitive against a red-hot Appalachian State team in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on that same day.

Memphis hosted Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Championship in a rematch of this exact game played last week.  The Tigers won the game 34-24, but Cincinnati was playing without their starting quarterback Desmond Ridder in that game. Ridder was back on Saturday and this game was certainly fun to watch.  Cincinnati started off with great field position after Memphis tried an onside kick on the first play of the game and didn’t get it. The Bearcats drove the rest of the field and scored the first touchdown of the game.  Both teams exchanged multiple 3-and-outs and a couple of Cincinnati fumbles ruined their chances at putting together drives. Down by 3, Desmond Ritter completed a string of passes to give the Bearcats a 14-10 at the half.  Both offenses woke up in the second half and Brady White led his Memphis team down the field on their first position of the half which was capped off by a 1 yard touchdown run from White. Cincinnati came right back and scored.  With 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati found themselves down 23-21. The Bearcats put together a long drive behind the legs of Michael Warren II and kicked a field goal with 4:23 to take a 24-23 lead. Memphis came right back and with 1:14 left in the game, Brady White threw a 6 yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gibson.  The Tigers went for two and did not convert. Ridder and Cincinnati would have one more chance. Ridder completed a 30 yard pass to Alec Pierce and then a 24 yard pass to Rashad Medaris to get his team all the way down to the Memphis 21 yard-line with 44 seconds remaining. A false start hurt the Bearcats and on 4th and 15, Cincinnati failed to convert.  For the second straight week, Memphis had defeated Cincinnati, this time for the AAC Championship by a score of 29-24. Both quarterbacks had over 230 yards through the air and both had a running touchdown. Ridder also added 113 yards on the ground. Desmond Ridder put a spark into Cincinnati’s offense and he did everything he could to get his team a win, but Memphis was just too good.  Memphis finally won their first AAC Championship, having lost the last two to UCF in heartbreaking fashion. By winning this game, Memphis secured their spot as the best Group of 5 team in the nation and earned a trip to the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic to square off against Penn State on December 28. Cincinnati will play against Boston College in the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl on January 2.  

So bold prediction about the Mountain West Championship game was wrong, but hey, we all make mistakes.  Hawai’i did keep it close, for the most part, against Boise State, until the Broncos pulled away at the end.  Boise State won the game 31-10. Nick Rolovich got this Rainbow Warrior team to show up firing on all cylinders as Hawai’i was very competitive in the first half.  The defenses dominated and after a long drive led by Cole McDonald, Hawai’i kicked a field goal to go up 6-3, with 9:40 remaining in the second quarter. However, Boise State jumped offsides and Nick Rolovich saw this as an opportunity to strike.  Hawai’i took the penalty and went for it on 4th and goal inside the 1 and was stuffed by Boise State. This could have been a huge moment in the game for Hawai’i, but the game remained tied at 3. Boise State punted and Hawai’i drove down the field once again, but Cole McDonald (who is still my sleeper) threw a pick in the endzone for a touchback.  Hawai’i was controlling this game but kept shooting themselves in the foot. Boise State scored on the next possession and an over-aggressive Hawai’i team tried to score before the half but did not kill enough time and had to punt to Boise State, who scored again, just before the half. The Broncos led 17-3. Hawai’i started the third quarter with the ball and, once again, drove down the field, only to be stopped on 4th and goal, again, this time from the 5.  Hawai’i certainly had their fair share of opportunities in this game. Boise State took control of the game from there and went on to the 21 point victory. The Broncos will play in the Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl against Washington on December 21. Hawai’i earned a bid to the SoFi Hawai’i Bowl, the staple of Christmas Eve night for college football fans, to face off against BYU.

Time for the big one.  One of the most anticipated games of the day was the SEC Championship and people got what they wanted.  LSU put on a show in Atlanta and ran Georgia right out of the building. Georgia had not allowed over 21 points all year but LSU’s high-powered offense changed that.  Joe Burrow deserves the Heisman and he had another spectacular performance. Georgia’s defense faltered early when Joe Burrow threw a 23-yard pass to Ja’Marr Chase to put the Tigers up 7-0.  After a missed field goal, LSU would score again to build a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Georgia was driving, down 17-3, late in the first half, but Jake Fromm threw a pick to Derek Stingley Jr. and the score would remain 17-3 at halftime.  After a field goal from LSU, and another missed field goal from Georgia, Joe Burrow gave us his Heisman moment. Every Heisman winner has one play where we are just in utter shock of what they just did: Johnny Manziel with his scramble and touchdown against Alabama, RG3’s miracle throw against Oklahoma, and now Joe Burrow’s insane play in the SEC Championship.  It happened with LSU up 20-3, looking to put Georgia out of reach with 4:17 remaining in the third quarter. Burrow took the snap at his own 20, dropped back, and immediately felt pressure from Travon Walker. Burrow started right and then spun back to his left, causing Walker to stumble. When Burrow tried going left he saw all 6’6 330 pounds of Jordan Davis there waiting for him and now Walker was closing in from the right.  Burrow tucked his shoulder and stepped back as the two closed in on him, causing Walker to stumble again, this time completely falling. Davis had to step around Walker to try and chase Burrow but it was too late. Burrow scrambled to the right sideline, back near his own 10-yard line, ran up along the sideline and let the ball fly on the run from the 13, with Davis pushing him as he did so. The pass found Justin Jefferson, at the opposite 44 yard-line, who did the rest.  Jefferson broke a couple tackles and ran all the way down to the 10-yard line. It was a huge play for LSU, that pretty much sealed the game, and it was Joe Burrow’s Heisman moment. Georgia thought they had Burrow sacked twice! If Joe Burrow doesn’t win the Heisman this year, it would be a complete robbery. LSU scored on that possession to go up 27-3 and did not look back. The Tigers won the game 37-10 and captured a perfect SEC season. Joe Burrow was 28-38 on the day with 349 yards and 4 touchdowns.  The guy is unstoppable! LSU earned the number 1 seed in the College Football Playoff and will play Oklahoma on December 28 in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Georgia will play Baylor in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on January 1.

Clemson is the team many people have forgotten about this year but the Tigers are undefeated and they are just as much of a threat to win the National Championship as LSU or Ohio State.  Dabo Swinney even says that his team this year is better than last year’s team. Let’s also not forget the fact that Clemson has won 28 straight games, is the defending National Champion, is an experienced team, that Trevor Lawrence has not lost a game in his entire college career, and that Lawrence is one of the most clutch and proven performers in all of college football.  Still want to bet against them? Anyone counting Clemson out is insane. People can complain about Clemson’s easy schedule all they want, but it’s not their fault the ACC had a rough year this year. Even so, Clemson has still won their last 8 games by 31 points or more. This team is scary good. The Tigers looked to keep the momentum going on Saturday against Virginia and had no problem doing so.  Virginia was making their first ever ACC Championship appearance and had a very successful season. Bronco Mendenhall has put this program on the map and they were one of the great stories of the season. Virginia surprised everyone and that was all well and good, but on Saturday, Virginia learned what it was like to play with the big boys. The Cavaliers got smacked in the mouth and the final score was 62-17 for Clemson.  Virginia had chances early, like on their opening drive when they drove down the field but Bryce Perkins threw an interception. However, when you play Clemson, you cannot make mistakes, as Virginia learned. When playing Clemson you also need to hope to try to stop Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, which is something most teams cannot do. The Tigers built a 31-7 lead by half and did not look back. Trevor Lawrence went 16-22 for 302 yards and 4 touchdowns before he sat the rest of the game when Clemson pulled the starters.  Clemson earned the number 3 seed in the playoff and will play Ohio State in what promises to be a game for the ages on December 28 in the Semifinal at the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Virginia will have to face another one of the big boys of college football in the Orange Bowl on December 30 when they play the Florida Gators. For any Trevor Lawrence haters who still remain, this guy is one of the best quarterbacks in college football and will probably be the best choice in the draft next year. Lawrence is clutch and elite and you never count out Dabo Swinney and Clemson!

The last game of the day was between Ohio State and Wisconsin for the Big Ten Championship.  This one was a rematch of the game earlier in the year that Ohio State won 38-7. Many people did not even think this game was going to be close, but they were wrong.  Jim Leonhard is one of the best defensive coordinators in college football and he had his guys ready to play on Saturday. Wisconsin must have not known that they were the underdogs because they certainly did not play like it.  The Badgers came out and smacked Ohio State right in the face early. Wisconsin scored on their first drive when Jonathan Taylor, one of the most explosive backs in the nation, broke through the middle of the Ohio State defense for 44 yards and the touchdown.  After a turnover on downs in Wisconsin territory, Ohio State forfeited possession to Wisconsin who punted. The teams were trading punts early but Wisconsin found the endzone again after a long drive orchestrated by Jack Coan and Jonathan Taylor. Coan capped off the drive with a 14 yard scamper into the endzone.  Ohio State drove down the field again, but this time fumbled and turned it over inside Wisconsin’s 10 yard-line. It seemed like it just wasn’t the Buckeyes’ night. With less than 3 minutes to go in the half, Justin Fields rallied his team and led Ohio State down the field where J.K. Dobbins punched one in to cut the score to 14-7 with 42 seconds remaining in the half.  Wisconsin seemed like they would just run the ball out and let the half end but Jonathan Taylor had different plans. Taylor broke open a 45 yard run down to the Ohio State 30 which set up a Jack Coan completion to Quintez Cephus down to the 1. Coan took it in from there. Wisconsin perfectly executed the 2-minute offense and led 21-7 at the break. Ohio State showed up in the second half and looked like the team we knew all year.  Ohio State scored on their opening possession of the second half then kicked a field goal after a Wisconsin fumble. Wisconsin then missed a field goal and the Buckeyes capitalized by scoring another touchdown. In the blink of an eye (well almost a full quarter) Ohio State had a 24-21 lead and did not look back. Another punt from Wisconsin led to another Ohio State touchdown and the next punt from Wisconsin led to an Ohio State field goal.  The Badgers could not muster anything in the second half. Ohio State came back and won the game 34-21 behind the arm of Justin Fields and the legs of J.K. Dobbins. Fields was 19-31 for 299 yards passing and 3 touchdowns while Dobbins was a workhorse with 33 carries for 172 yards and a touchdown. For Wisconsin, Jonathan Taylor had 20 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown and Jack Coan had a good day going 17-33 for 232 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.  Ohio State was tested in this game and proved that they can win close games that go into the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes will take on fellow undefeated Clemson on December 28 in the Semifinal at the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Wisconsin impressed many with this performance and that was probably the reason why they earned a trip to the Rose Bowl Game to play Oregon on January 1.  

It truly was a great weekend to be a college football fan as most of these games were exciting to watch.  Now we can sit back and transition from our favorite weekend of the year, championship weekend, to our favorite month of the year, bowl season.  The bowl games will surely be fun and make sure to be on the lookout for a bowl prediction article, in the coming week or so, that will break down every matchup (yes, all 40 of them) for you and tell you which team you should pick to win.