Conference championship preview
by Aaron Lynn and Jonny Gaunt
Conference USA Championship - Friday, Dec 3 - 7:00 PM ET - CBSSN
(8-4) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (-3.5) @ (11-1) UTSA Roadrunners
UTSA saw their perfect season come to an end in a blowout loss against North Texas. Despite that disappointing result, the Roadrunners still have the opportunity to host the C-USA championship and will invite the high-powered Hilltoppers offense into the Alamodome. WKU QB Bailey Zappe has been electric this season, posting Joe Burrow-like numbers (nearly 5,000 yards and 52 TDs).
Expect lots of offense just like there was in the Roadrunners' 52-46 win over Western Kentucky in October.
PAC-12 Championship - Friday, Dec 3 - 8:00 PM ET - ABC
#10 (10-2) Oregon Ducks vs. #17 (9-3) Utah Utes (-3)
Allegiant Stadium - Las Vegas, NV
It was just two weeks ago when we saw the Utes dominate the Ducks to clinch the South division title. Now, the two teams meet up again in Vegas. It's difficult to beat a team twice, especially twice in three weeks. However, the Oregon injury situation has been an issue all season and only escalated in the loss to Utah. Both defenses have been solid this season, and this game could very well come down to the turnover margin.
The winner has the opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl, likely against Ohio State.
Jonny's Week 14 Top 25
1. Georgia (12-0)
2. Alabama (11-1)
3. Michigan (11-1)
4. Cincinnati (12-0)
5. Oklahoma State (11-1)
6. Notre Dame (11-1)
7. Ohio State (10-2)
8. Mississippi (10-2)
9. Baylor (10-2)
10. Oregon (10-2)
11. Michigan State (10-2)
12. Oklahoma (10-2)
13. Wake Forest (10-2)
14. Iowa (10-2)
15. Houston (11-1)
16. BYU (10-2)
17. Utah (9-3)
18. Pittsburgh (10-2)
19. NC State (9-3)
20. Clemson (9-3)
21. San Diego State (11-1)
22. Louisiana (11-1)
23. Arkansas (8-4)
24. Kentucky (9-3)
25. UTSA (11-1)
Big 12 Championship - Saturday, Dec 4 - 12:00 PM ET - ABC
#9 (10-2) Baylor Bears vs. #5 (11-1) Oklahoma State Cowboys (-5.5)
AT&T Stadium - Arlington, TX
Oklahoma State knocked off Baylor 24-14 in early October and will need to do it again to have a shot at the Playoff. It's been the Pokes' defense that has led the way so far this season and clamped down the Bears in that victory. Since then, the offense has come to life, averaging over 40 points per game.
Injuries will play into this game, with star Oklahoma State running back Jaylen Warren not 100% healthy. Meanwhile, the Bears have had to turn to backup QB Blake Shapen in the last couple of games and the offensive production has dipped in that time.
This game will likely come down to whether Baylor can force mistakes from OSU QB Spencer Sanders, who is prone to some head-scratching decisions from time to time and whose emotions can get the best of him. However, when Sanders is on his game, he is a dynamic playmaker and threat to run.
If Oklahoma State wins, they will put themselves in a position to reach the Playoff for the first time in school history. If the Pokes win AND either Michigan, Alabama, or Cincinnati lose, book a spot in the Top 4.
If Baylor wins, the Playoff is likely out of reach unless absolute chaos happens in front of them. Otherwise, the Bears will likely be headed to the Sugar Bowl.
MAC Championship - Saturday, Dec 4 - 12:00 PM ET - ESPN
(7-5) Kent State Golden Flashes (-3.5) vs. (8-4) Northern Illinois Huskies
Ford Field - Detroit, MI
The MAC season was chaotic, with several teams in the mix to reach the MAC championship game in the final two weeks of the season. Eventually, Kent State and Northern Illinois emerged. Kent State is led by QB Dustin Crum, a talented veteran. He is joined by 1,000 yard rusher Marquez cooper and 1,000 yard receiver Dante Cephas.
Kent State took the victory earlier this season in a high-scoring 52-47 contest, which broke a 5-game Northern Illinois win streak. The Huskies have won a lot of close matchups this season, can they get revenge and win their 5th MAC championship since 2011? Or can Kent State claim their first?
Mountain West Championship - Saturday, Dec 4 - 3:00 PM ET - FOX
(9-3) Utah State Aggies @ (11-1) #19 San Diego State Aztecs (-6)
San Diego State hasn't exactly dominated many opponents, but credit head coach Brady Hoke for guiding his team to an 11-1 record. And if you haven't heard about the greatest punter in the world (we mean that quite literally) in Matt Araiza, now is the time to hear about him.
Utah State has put together one of the best turnarounds in college football this season. Logan Bonner is a gunslinger for the Aggies and will look to his favorite target Deven Thompkins early and often. It will be a difficult task for Utah State to head on the road and get a win, but if Bonner and Thompkins are rolling, look out.
Bryce Young - QB
Alabama Crimson Tide
3,901 YDS, 40 TD/4 INT
Kenneth Walker - RB
Michigan State Spartans
1,636 YDS, 19 TDs
Matt Corral - QB
3,334 YDS, 20 TD/4 INT
497 Rush YDS, 11 TD
Kenny Pickett - QB
4,066 YDS, 40 TD/7 INT
221 Rush YDS, 4 TD
Aidan Hutchinson - DE
54 Tackles, 12 Sacks
2 Forced Fumbles
C.J. Stroud - QB
Ohio State Buckeyes
3,862 YDS, 38 TD/5 INT
J. Davis, DL, UGA
H. Haskins, RB, UM
J. Warren, RB, OKST
D. Ridder, QB, UC
Sun Belt Championship - Saturday, Dec 4 - 3:30 PM ET - ESPN
(10-2) Appalachian State Mountaineers (-3) @ #24 (11-1) Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns
Appalachian State continues to be one of the best Group of 5 teams in the country and is looking for their third Sun Belt titles in the last four seasons. Meanwhile, Louisiana has reached the conference title game in four-straight season but has yet to pull off a victory.
After falling to Texas in the opening week of the season, the Ragin' Cajuns have rattled off 11-straight wins and are perfect at home including a 41-13 beatdown of the Mountaineers in October. App State hasn't lost since that game either.
This game may very well come down to QB play, where veteran Levi Lewis has been solid for the Ragin Cajuns and Chase Brice a key piece for the Mountaineers.
SEC Championship - Saturday, Dec 4 - 4:00 PM ET - CBS
#1 (12-0) Georgia Bulldogs (-6.5) vs. #3 (11-1) Alabama Crimson Tide
Mercedes-Benz Stadium - Atlanta, GA
Considering that both Georgia and Alabama have had their divisions wrapped up for the last few weeks, this matchup has been eagerly anticipated. In recent years, the Crimson Tide have spoiled success for Georgia, including in the National Championship game a few years ago. Georgia believes this will finally be the year that changes thanks to one of the best defenses ever fielded.
It's unusual to see Alabama play in close games, but that's what has happened this season. Alabama has escaped in games against LSU, Arkansas, and Auburn and will need to play their best game of the season against Georgia. The offense has struggled in recent weeks as Bryce Young has been under pressure far to often and the run game has stalled. Auburn made life miserable for Young, and Georgia is very capable of doing the same thing.
Georgia has coasted to wins in the last few weeks playing inferior opponents. It all comes down to this game. Win, and the Bulldogs will be the top seed and heavy favorites to win the Title. Lose, and the Bulldogs still end up in the Playoff, but might have a more difficult matchup in the Semifinal, and would likely rematch Alabama to win a Title.
If Alabama wins, they very well may take the top seed. Lose, and the Playoff chances suddenly become a lot more complicated. If Bryce Young is able to play well, he very well might take the Heisman trophy with him.
American Championship - Saturday, Dec 4 - 4:00 PM ET - ABC
#21 (11-1) Houston Cougars @ #4 (12-0) Cincinnati Bearcats (-10.5)
Houston brings an 11-game win streak into Nippert Stadium, where Cincinnati looks to finish a perfect season and become the first Group of 5 to reach the Playoff.
To reach the Playoff, obviously, Cincinnati has to win. Unfortunately, a win doesn't guarantee them a Playoff spot, especially considering that the Committee has not valued the Bearcats especially highly this season in the weekly rankings. To feel truly comfortable, UC fans will be rooting for an Alabama loss, a Michigan loss, and an Oklahoma State loss. If just one of those outcomes happen, then the Bearcats should be able to breathe a little easier. If all three of those teams win, then it could very well be Cincinnati who is left out come Sunday.
Big Ten Championship - Saturday, Dec 4 - 8:00 PM ET - FOX
#2 (11-1) Michigan Wolverines (-11) vs. #13 (10-2) Iowa Hawkeyes
Lucas Oil Stadium - Indianapolis, IN
Michigan is coming off what might be their best win in the last 10 years with a solid beatdown of their rival Ohio State. Michigan enters the Big Ten Championship for the first time and is now just a win away from the Playoff. The defense, led by Heisman candidate DE Aidan Hutchinson wreaked havoc against Ohio State and will look to stop Iowa.
It hasn't looked pretty for the Hawkeyes, but they stumbled into the Big Ten Championship game thanks to Minnesota's win over Wisconsin last Saturday. This team relies heavily on big plays made by the defense and the run game. Considering Michigan's talented defense, running the ball may prove to be difficult, which might mean Iowa is in for a long day on Saturday. Iowa may realistically need 3 or 4 turnovers to have a chance, and Michigan has done a relatively good job of protecting the football.
Aidan Hutchinson had an incredible 15 QB hurries and 3 sacks against Ohio State. If he repeats that performance, not only will Michigan likely advance to the Playoff, but he will put himself into real consideration for the Heisman, and would be the first defensive winner since fellow Michigan player Charles Woodson (1997).
Win, and there's no question Michigan is in the Playoff. If Iowa pulls off the upset, the Hawkeyes will head to the Rose Bowl to play the winner of the PAC-12 Championship (Oregon vs. Utah).
ACC Championship - Saturday, Dec 4 - 8:00 PM ET - ABC
#15 (10-2) Pittsburgh Panthers (-3.5) vs. #16 (10-2) Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Bank of America Stadium - Charlotte, NC
It's a little strange to not see Clemson in the ACC Title Game, but a welcome change for just about every other team in the conference. This game features two of the best QBs in college football with Sam Hartman of Wake Forest and Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh. Pickett is near the top of many draft boards and his 4,000+ yards and 40 TDs are a big reason why.
Don't be surprised to see some points, considering both teams have Top 10 offenses but somewhat shaky defenses. Pittsburgh's defense offers a bit more resistance than that of the Demon Deacons, which is one reason why Pittsburgh is favored. With the Orange Bowl being used for a Semifinal game this year, expect the ACC winner to likely find a spot in the Peach Bowl.