We made it here, folks. We’re already at Conference Championship week. There are some big games on tap this weekend, but none bigger than the Big Ten championship which features #5 Iowa and #4 Michigan State – the winner all but guaranteeing themselves a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Other games on the schedule include other Power 5 conference championships in the: ACC, SEC and Pac-12. Clemson looks to complete their undefeated regular season and lock up the #1 seed in this year’s Playoff. It won’t be easy, however, as the are matched up against a high-powered North Carolina football program. The Tar Heels have athletes all over the field which makes them a lethal threat to Clemson’s bid at a perfect season. This surely isn’t a game to sleep on.
In the SEC, it’s not as big of a game as you’d expect from the best conference in football. However, you’re in for a great game anytime Alabama and Florida square off. The Gators have really struggled on offense which certainly doesn’t bode well for them going up against the best defense in college football. Still, it’s college football, and anything can happen. Florida looks to demolish ‘Bama’s playoff hopes.
Stanford is coming off a huge win against Notre Dame and they look to follow that up with a Pac-12 championship. Clay Helton has secured the USC head coaching job and a conference championship would be the icing on the cake. The Trojans have been a completely different team since Helton took over. They could pull off the upset as Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan square off.
Among the non-Power 5 conferences, I love the Houston and Temple matchup in the AAC. Reports indicate that Tom Herman will stay the Cougars’ coach despite other tempting job opportunities. Look for him to finalize the start of his legacy with a conference championship.
Check out the rest of the conference championships below along with my prediction.
AAC Championship: #21 Temple vs. #16 Houston, 12:00 ABC (12/5)
The AAC is a conference that is on the rise. It saw teams like Navy, Memphis and of course Temple and Houston emerge in the national spotlight. The AAC is legit, as they proved this year. It all comes down to the Owls and the Cougars.
I’ve been on Houston’s bandwagon all year long. I absolutely love the job that Tom Herman has done with that program and love the idea of him sticking around and starting his legacy at the program rather than jumping ship for a bigger program. Houston provides a great offense led by Greg Ward Jr. under center, one of the most dynamic QBs in the nation.
Temple has enjoyed a great season, headlined by their 7-0 start until their narrow loss to Notre Dame. P.J. Walker and Jahad Thomas have been an electric tandem in the backfield. Along with the offensive playmakers, the Owls features strong defensive play led by seniors Matt Ioannidis and Tyler Matakevich. Keep an eye on those guys, future NFL draft picks.
The AAC championship is going to come down to offense, Walker vs. Ward. I’m giving the nod to the Cougars here. Temple’s athletes just can’t matchup to those of Houston and having Ward conducting the offense is a huge plus for the Cougars.
Prediction: Houston, 34-29
C-USA Championship: Southern Mississippi vs. Western Kentucky, 12:00 ESPN 2 (12/5)
If you like offense, you better turn into the Conference USA championship. The conference isn’t what it once was, but you’ll still see it provide some excitement on offense – especially in this matchup.
The name to watch out for in this game is Brandon Doughty. The sixth-year senior is the most prolific passer in all of college football and holds multiple records. He is only the third QB to pass for 4,000 yards and 40 TDs in back-to-back seasons and leads the nation in multiple passing categories. He looks to get drafted this April.
For Southern Mississippi, they’ve always been a strong non-power 5 school. They have an offense that will hang around with Western Kentucky. However, they don’t have Brandon Doughty. Doughty will put on a show on the big stage as the Hilltoppers advance to 10-2 and burst into the top 25.
Prediction: Western Kentucky, 48-42
SEC Championship: #15 Florida vs. #2 Alabama, 4:00 CBS (12/5)
This marks the 8th time these two teams meet in the SEC championship – the most of any teams in conference history. The committee has been high on Alabama all season long despite their one loss, some even consider the Crimson Tide the #1 team in the nation. A win would secure ‘Bama’s spot in the playoff.
Florida has struggled on offense ever since Will Grier was suspended for the remainder of the season. Treon Harris has been extremely inconsistent under center, and as of late, plain awful. The offense was blanked last week against Florida State, the only points coming from a safety. In the previous week, the Gators barely managed to beat a two-win Florida Atlantic.
All signs point to Alabama crushing the Gators in this one, which I fully expect. Florida’s offense is no match for ‘Bama’s elite defense. Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide provide overwhelming competition for his former offensive coordinator, Jim McElwain. Florida had a great season though and are way ahead of where I thought they’d be. McElwain did a great job with this program in his debut season.
Prediction: Alabama, 27-9
Mountain West Championship: San Diego State vs. Air Force, 7:30 ESPN 2 (12/5)
No Boise State? Why even watch. The matchup certainly doesn’t look appetizing, but it’s a conference championship which means we’re in store for some great, competitive football.
The Aztecs ran away with their division as they went 8-0 in conference play. Air Force is very well-coached, led by Troy Calhoun, one of the best in the country. Ricky Long has done a great job at San Diego State in his own right. The Falcons will have a tough time stopping Donnel Pumphrey, who is the best back in the conference.
It comes down to coaching in this game where Air Force has the nod. Calhoun leads Air Force to their first Mountain West conference championship in school history.
Prediction: Air Force, 24-20
Pac-12 Championship: #24 USC vs. #7 Stanford, 7:45 ESPN (12/5)
First off I want to tip my hat to the job that Clay Helton has done in his short stint with USC. He has absolutely turned that program around in such a short span and earned himself the permanent head coach spot as USC stripped his interim tag after last week’s victory over UCLA.
The Cardinal are coming off a huge win against Notre Dame which have made them relevant again in the playoff conversation, although it’s unlikely they make it. Despite that, they are still hungry for their third conference championship in four years. Christian McCaffrey has led the charge and now has over 3,000 all purpose yards on the season, ranked 3rd all-time. He looks to continue his Heisman push.
For USC, they are loaded with athletes on both sides of the football. Stanford counters with tough, physical football players that know how to get the job done. As hard as it is for me to go against David Shaw and the Cardinal, I’m actually picking USC in this game as Clay Helton puts the icing on the cake in what was a tremendous run. I look forward to one last Cody Kessler-Kevin Hogan matchup as the two prepare for the NFL Draft.
Prediction: USC, 27-24
ACC Championship: #1 Clemson vs. #8 North Carolina, 8:00 ABC (12/5)
It all comes down to this for Clemson. A win, and you’re in. The Tigers have been the #1 team in the committee’s College Football Playoff rankings since the first week. Now they must put their money where their mouth is. The Larry Fedora led Tar Heels have been one of the biggest surprise teams this season, they pose as a huge threat to Clemson.
Deshaun Watson looks to strengthen his Heisman candidacy in what is the biggest game of the year. On the flipside, Marquise Williams has had a tremendous season for North Carolina and has a very similar playing style to that of Watson’s. Watson vs. Williams is a great matchup – the two are going to put on a show in a game that will come down to offense as both feature tremendous athletes.
While Clemson clinches a playoff spot with a conference win, a win could get North Carolina into the playoff as well. While the committee hasn’t been high on UNC thus far, a one-loss team with a win against top ranked Clemson and ACC championship would have to sneak into the playoff, no doubt about it in my mind.
The casual fan will look at this game as if it’s Clemson’s game to lose, but don’t be fooled. The Tar Heels are well-coached and field a great all around football team. Will Dabo Swinney be dabbing after the game? Or does UNC get the last laugh?
Prediction: Clemson, 38-30
Big Ten Championship: #5 Iowa vs. #4 Michigan State, 8:00 FOX (12/5)
This is the game to watch on Saturday. Win, and you’re in. Even though Iowa is undefeated, I have Michigan State as the higher ranked team based on wins against Michigan and Ohio State; whereas Iowa doesn’t have any signature wins on their résumé. That doesn’t matter in this game.
The Big Ten championship is shaping up to be the most important game of the season for the playoff landscape. Both teams desperately want a win in a game that will present textbook Big Ten football; which is tough, physical football. Kirk Ferentz and Mark Dantonio are among the best football coaches in the nation – they know how to win games.
I lean towards Michigan State in this game. They’re the better football team and can win the big games as they’ve proven this year. Iowa hasn’t faced a team like the Spartans. Connor Cook has a lot to prove and it’ll come down to QB play where Michigan State has the edge. Sparty wins a huge game and gets into the College Football Playoff.
Prediction: Michigan State, 24-19
There wasn’t much shakeup this week as my top 5 stayed put. Oklahoma blew out Oklahoma State which clinched their spot in the playoff. Ohio State and Stanford really strengthened their résumés with big wins against Michigan and Notre Dame, respectively. The Tar Heels have themselves in a great spot and could jump into the top 4 with a win over Clemson in the conference championship. Florida State crushed the Gators, but they aren’t in the playoff conversation.
We’re in for a big week where some teams face their final chance to prove themselves worthy of a playoff spot. Check out how it looks leading up to that:
1.) Clemson Tigers
2.) Alabama Crimson Tide
3.) Oklahoma Sooners
4.) Michigan State Spartans
5.) Iowa Hawkeyes
6.) Ohio State Buckeyes (+2)
7.) Stanford Cardinal (+7)
8.) North Carolina Tar Heels (+2)
9.) Florida State Seminoles (+3)
10.) Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-4)
11.) TCU Horned Frogs (+6)
12.) Baylor Bears (-5)
13.) Oklahoma State Cowboys (-4)
14.) Northwestern Wildcats (+2)
15.) Florida Gators (-4)
16.) Houston Cougars (+3)
17.) Oregon Ducks (+1)
18.) Ole Miss Rebels (+2)
19.) Michigan Wolverines (-6)
20.) Navy Midshipmen (-5)
21.) Temple Owls (+3)
22.) LSU Tigers (+3)
23.) Utah Utes (NR)
24.) USC Trojans (NR)
25.) Wisconsin Badgers (NR)
Dropped Out: Washington State, UCLA, Mississippi State
Under Consideration: Georgia, Western Kentucky
It’s the same as last week. The Heisman belongs to Derrick Henry right now, without a doubt. He has really stepped it up in the final stretch of the season and is coming off a record-breaking performance in the Iron Bowl which included becoming the single-season record holder for rushing yards and TDs – he also rushed the ball 46 times which is an SEC record. It’s his award to lose. Guys like Watson and Mayfield can strengthen their candidacy, but I don’t see them surpassing Henry, unless Alabama loses and Watson goes off against UNC. Mayfield won’t have play in another game before the ceremony.
1.) Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Stats: 1,797 rushing yards, 22 TDs, 6.1 yards per rush, 97 receiving yards
2.) Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Stats: 3,223 passing yards, 27-10 TDs-INTs, 70% completion percentage, 756 rushing yards, 9 TDs
3.) Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Stats: 3,389 passing yards, 35-5 TDs-INTs, 68% completion percentage, 420 rushing yards, 7 TDs