Easily the most intense and thrilling week in college football, conference championship contests give fans a multitude of marquee matchups that come with serious postseason implications. While the current Playoff picture arguably has the four best teams squaring off in January, these final games are essential in determining which programs are actually worthy of competing for a National Title. Although the end is in sight for the top four programs, these monumental affairs cannot be overlooked, particularly the contests that have two conference opponents facing off again (see TCU vs. Oklahoma). Will the current Playoff teams hold serve or is there still more chaos to come? Let’s find out.
Stanford Cardinal (12) vs. USC Trojans (10)
Defeating both Washington and Notre Dame in two of their last three games, the Cardinal more than earned a trip to the PAC-12 Championship Game. Even with quarterback K.J. Costello playing less than impressive throughout the season (has thrown more than two touchdown passes only once this season), the presence and sheer athleticism of running back Bryce Love (8.6 yards per rushing attempt) have allowed the Cardinal to be well-balanced and competitive more often than not. However, quarterback Sam Darnold has been slinging the ball much more accurately recently (has thrown just two interceptions in his last four games) and running back Ronald Jones II (6.3 yards per rushing attempt, 17 total touchdowns) has been fantastic throughout the season. While the Cardinal have a tremendous defense, trying to hold off both Darnold and Jones throughout an entire game will be tremendously difficult.
Final Score: Cardinal 27 Trojans 30 Spread: USC -3.5
Akron Zips vs. Toledo Rockets
Despite a 7-5 record, the Zips played well enough within their conference to clinch a spot in the MAC Championship Game. Although freshman quarterback Kato Nelson has started in just three games this season, his impressive mobility and ball-security skills (six touchdowns and one interception in three games) have kept the Zips competitive down the stretch. However, the Rockets have much more firepower on the offensive end as quarterback Logan Woodside (10 yards per pass attempt, 65.2 CMP%) and running back Terry Swanson (5.4 yards per rush attempt, 12 rushing touchdowns) have been electric this season. While the Zips should be pleased with how they played in the latter half the season to get them this far, the Rockets have a proficient offense that has proven to be a serious hassle for opposing defenses to stifle.
Final Score: Zips 17 Rockets 33 Spread: Toledo -21.5
Memphis Tigers (20) vs. Central Florida Knights (14)
The fact that the Tigers lone loss on the season was at the hands of the Knights is enough in and of itself to make this a highly contentious affair. However, given that both teams have highly prolific offenses, this should be a shootout for the ages. Tigers quarterback Riley Ferguson has been terrific when throwing the ball downfield (8.77 yards per pass attempt) and has thrown just eight interceptions on the season. Yet, for everything Ferguson has done well this season, Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton has been more exceptional in every passing category. Throwing 10.32 yards per pass attempt, Milton is a highly confident passer that rarely turns the ball over (six interceptions) and has the mobility skills to extend plays. While the connection between Ferguson and wideout Anthony Miller will keep this a close contest, the intelligence and consistency of Milton will ultimately win what should be a thrilling offensive affair.
Final Score: Tigers 38 Knights 45 Spread: UCF -10.0
North Texas Mean Green vs. Florida Atlantic Owls
One of the best seasons for North Texas in recent memory, the Mean Green have lived up to their namesake. Quarterback Mason Fine is a highly aggressive passer that is always in attack mode even after he throws a brutal interception. On top of that, the Mean Green have a prolific rusher in Jeffrey Wilson (6.5 per rush attempt, 16 touchdowns) that can both run and catch the football with impressive consistency. Although the Owls may not have a trusted passer, they have one of the most productive running backs in college football in Devin Singletary (6.6 yards per rush attempt, 27 touchdowns). Simply put, Singletary is a deadly scoring machine and a violent runner that has rushed under 100 yards only twice this season. While the Owls clearly have a superstar athlete in Singletary, the proven offensive versatility of the Mean Green gives them a slight edge in this contest.
Final Score: Mean Green 43 Owls 37 Spread: Florida Atlantic -10.5
TCU Horned Frogs (11) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (3)
A revenge game in every sense of the word, the Horned Frogs unquestionably remember what happened to their dominant defense against Baker Mayfield. With a Playoff berth most likely unattainable, quarterback Kenny Hill (66.6 CMP%) should be able to function effectively with a massive chip on his shoulder against a mediocre Sooners defense. However, what the Sooners lack in an intimidating defense, they more than compensate for it with a torrid offense led by the immensely talented albeit polarizing quarterback in Baker Mayfield (4097 passing yards, 11.84 yards per pass attempt, 71.4 CMP%). Aside from Mayfield, the Sooners offense is also fairly dependent on the abilities of running back Rodney Anderson (6.3 yards per rush attempt, 16 total touchdowns) as both a fearless rusher and reliable pass-catcher. Assuredly, this will be a much more competitive affair, but even with the Horned Hogs playing angry, the Sooners have too many weapons for TCU’s defense to hold in check.
Final Score: Horned Frogs 31 Sooners 39 Spread: Oklahoma -7.0
Georgia Bulldogs (6) vs. Auburn Tigers (2)
Another redemption game that should be far more competitive than the first matchup, the Bulldogs will certainly be more prepared for the Tigers. Although Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm cannot be expected to carry his team’s offense (19 touchdowns, five interceptions), he needs to be more confident when it comes to taking deep shots downfield. For the Tigers, their performance in this game most likely hinges on the health of gifted running back Kerryon Johnson (19 total touchdowns) who is still listed as day-to-day. However, even if the Tigers were without Johnson for this crucial contest, quarterback Jarrett Stidham looked poised and efficient against the best defense in the country last (75 CMP% against Alabama). Whether Johnson plays or not, this contest will be highly competitive and physical with Stidham making enough big plays to seal the victory and a place in the Playoff.
Final Score: Bulldogs 24 Tigers 28 Spread: Auburn -2.5
Fresno State Bulldogs (25) vs. Boise State Broncos
While the Bulldogs certainly felt a sense of elation when they defeated the Broncos at home last week, that emotion was certainly replaced with stoic determination shortly thereafter. As they have done all season, the Bulldogs defense locked down another opponent while quarterback Marus McMaryion did his part on offense (332 passing yards, two touchdowns against the Broncos). Although the Broncos defense could have done more last week against the Bulldogs, quarterback Brett Rypien has to be more involved in scoring plays for Boise State to have a chance in this upcoming affair (zero passing touchdowns last week). With such a quick turnaround against a familiar opponent, I believe the Broncos will make the proper adjustments to win what should be another hard fought and enticingly brutal game.
Final Score: Bulldogs 26 Broncos 29 Spread: Boise State -8.5
Miami Hurricanes (7) vs. Clemson Tigers (1)
After an embarrassing loss to Pittsburgh, the Hurricanes will look to play with a renewed sense of confidence especially after they benched quarterback Malik Rosier in the aforementioned affair. More importantly, running back Travis Homer cannot have another abysmal day rushing football as he did last week (seven rushing attempts for 12 yards against Pittsburgh). For the Tigers, their success in this contest will be predicated on the performance of their defensive line and the play of quarterback Kelly Bryant (12 touchdowns, six interceptions). While he may not be an efficient passer, his impressive athleticism allows him to be productive when a play breaks down (10 rushing touchdowns) and he possesses a strong enough arm to chuck the ball downfield. Even if Miami’s defense comes out hungry and aggressive early on, the lack of trust in Rosier combined with an inconsistent running game will ultimately prevent the Hurricanes from winning this contest.
Final Score: Hurricanes 20 Tigers 30 Spread: Clemson -9.5
Ohio State Buckeyes (8) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (4)
If the Buckeyes have serious intentions of winning this game, they will need the dynamic playmaking abilities of quarterback J.T. Barrett (33 passing touchdowns, nine rushing touchdowns). While Ohio State does have two impressive running backs in J.K. Dobbins (1190 rushing yards) and Mike Weber (10 rushing touchdowns), they will need the added dimension of Barrett to overcome the massive and tenacious defense of the Badgers (12 PAPG). Although the Badgers may not have a versatile quarterback, their tenacious running game led by Jonathan Taylor (seven yards per rush attempt) has carried this program to every vital victory this season. While betting against Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes may seem foolish, Ohio State has performed poorly against stout defensive lines (see Iowa) and will face one of if not the best overall defenses in the country.
Final Score: Buckeyes 19 Badgers 23 Spread: Ohio State -6.5