ACC: 23 Virginia vs 3 Clemson (Charlotte)
The Clemson Tigers have been criticized all year for playing a weak schedule, which mostly isn’t their fault with the ACC, especially the Atlantic division, being ridiculously weak this season. Now, they have their chance to prove themselves as one of the top teams in the country against the second best team in the conference as they face off against Virginia in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.
While Dabo Swinney had a lot to say about the College Football Playoff rankings last week, the mission is clear for the Tigers: win and you’re in. Of the three top teams in the rankings, Clemson is the only team that must win their conference to get in the playoff. Trevor Lawrence is looking to lead his team to a fifth straight ACC title and he has been off-the-charts good the last four weeks of the season after a slow start when he was the Heisman favorite at the beginning of the year. He has thrown for nearly 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns against no turnovers in the last month of the season, so he is in prime form and it should scare the rest of the playoff field.
The Cavaliers had to go until the final game of the season to clinch the ACC Coastal division, but they have looked like the best team in the division all year. The one thing that could hurt Virginia, however, is the fact that this is their first ever appearance in the conference title game and the team is going for their first conference title since 1995 and just their third in team history. The Cavaliers boast the best defense the Tigers have faced all year as they are third in the conference with 43 sacks. They also have the most versatile quarterback with Bryce Perkins approaching 3,000 yards in the air and 700 on the ground while being responsible for 27 touchdowns.
This should be a pretty good game and a great test for the Tigers, but they should be able to get the win. Isaiah Simmons and the rest of the defense will just have to be aware of Perkins’ ability to move on the field.
Prediction: Clemson 28, Virginia 23
American Athletic: 20 Cincinnati at 17 Memphis
This is a de facto semifinal game for the Group of Five spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game. It also worked out that it is a rematch of last week’s game. The Memphis Tigers beat the Cincinnati Bearcats at home last week to secure another home game for the conference championship this week. It was a great game that came down to the final quarter and this game should be just as exciting.
The Tigers are looking for their first outright conference championship since winning the Missouri Valley Conference, an FCS conference, in 1971. They were named co-champions of the American in 2014, along with Cincinnati, before there was a championship game. It has been a special year for the Tigers, with them only being a two-point loss to Temple away from a perfect season. Brady White has been on fire all year and could be ready to take the next step and become a top NFL prospect for next season. Memphis did a good job mixing up their offense, amassing over 400 yards and controlling the clock to keep Cincinnati out of the game late.
The Bearcats are going for their first outright conference title since 2009, when the team went 12-0 and played Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Michael Warren II will have to do much of what he did in last week’s game against Memphis, rushing for over 100 yards and a touchdown. If Ben Bryant can eliminate his two interceptions, this could go much different for Cincinnati this week.
The Memphis Tigers are looking for their first major bowl game in team history and a win would certainly put them in one. If they get Kenneth Gainwell going early, expect them to pull out another big win. Being at home also helps them out a lot as Memphis has they win by an average of 16 points at the Liberty Bowl.
Prediction: Memphis 35, Cincinnati 31
Big 12: 7 Baylor at 6 Oklahoma
The best thing about the Big 12 is that every team plays each other throughout the year so there is always a rematch in the conference title game. College football fans everywhere are thankful this is the rematch we get this year. Oklahoma made a historic comeback against Baylor when they played in Waco three weeks ago, but the game is in Lincoln this time and a lot more is on the line.
The Sooners are playing for their College Football Playoff lives this week as a win could get them into the field as the four seed. Jalen Hurts needs a great showing if his team is going to play for a shot at a national championship. He did rack up over 400 yards against the Bears, but he also turned the ball over three times and nearly lost a third fumble in the fourth quarter that would have cost his team the game.
The Baylor Bears opened up a huge 28-3 lead against Oklahoma and lead 31-10 at the half. The team collapsed in the second half and were shut out. They cannot let that happen again if they want to win the conference title. They likely won’t make the playoff with a win, but getting into the Sugar Bowl could be huge for Matt Rhule and his Bears, who were 2-10 just two years ago.
The Sooners are a much different team at home and I don’t see them falling behind by 25 points to start this game. They cannot afford that if they want to prove themselves to the playoff selection committee. A more decisive win would give them a better chance to make it into the field, so expect them to be ready.
Prediction: Oklahoma 35, Baylor 24
Big Ten: 1 Ohio State vs 8 Wisconsin (Indianapolis)
If one thing is for sure going into the Big Ten Conference Championship Game, it’s that the Ohio State Buckeyes are in the College Football Playoff. It doesn’t matter if they beat the Wisconsin Badgers, but finishing the year 13-0 with a Big Ten title would give them a better shot at being the top seed in the field.
The last time Ohio State played the Badgers, they won by 31 points and held prolific rusher and potential Heisman finalist Jonathan Taylor to just 52 yards on the ground. Them playing a team they already manhandled won’t help their chances at being the number one team, so expect them to just go all out regardless. Justin Fields and Chase Young will both be in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, but it is pretty clear neither of them will win it. Despite that, they will both play a huge factor in the team’s path to the conference title as Young has a nation-leading 16.5 sacks and could very well be the top pick in next year’s NFL Draft, while Fields is padding his stats before a probable Heisman Trophy run in 2020.
This is likely Jonathan Taylor’s Big Ten swan song and he would love to go out with an upset and a Big Ten championship. They haven’t won a conference title since 2012, but they would love to get back to the Rose Bowl this year. To do that, the Badgers are going to have to get Taylor more than 52 rushing yards. If they can get him going early, it could be a rough day for Ohio State, but it certainly doesn’t seem like the Buckeyes will let the Badgers pull the upset.
Prediction: Ohio State 37, Wisconsin 17
Conference USA: UAB at Florida Atlantic
It has been a wild season in the Conference USA as it came down to the final week and an upset on both sides. The Florida Atlantic Owls beat Southern Miss and got help from East rival Florida International to win the East and keep the Golden Eagles from winning the West. The UAB Blazers took the assist from the Owls as they could only win the West with a win and a Southern Miss loss.
The Blazers are looking for double-digit wins for only the second time in team history after they won 11 games and the conference title in 2018. They won their final three games of the regular season to get into the Conference USA Championship Game, so they have a lot of momentum. It has been their defense that has carried them all year and it will be on linebackers Kristopher Moll and Jordan Smith, who have 19 of the team’s 43 sacks this year, to take the Blazers to a second straight conference title.
The Owls won a conference title in 2017, going 11-3 and winning the Boca Raton Bowl in the process, before slipping to 5-7 last year. They have come back with a vengeance this year, winning nine of their last 10 games to win the East. Their success has been thanks mostly to quarterback Chris Robison, who has over 3,100 yards and 22 touchdowns against five interceptions. Akileis Leroy has been a huge help on defense as well, leading the team in tackles with 94 and sacks with 7.5 while also pulling down three interceptions. If they can get after the Blazers and keep Robison upright, they should be able to get the win.
Prediction: Florida Atlantic 23, UAB 19
Mid-American: Miami (OH) vs Central Michigan (Detroit)
It has been a strange year for the MAC. Miami of Ohio went 6-6 and was left out of a bowl game in 2018. Central Michigan went 1-11 in 2018, but was able to hire Jim McElwain and has turned things around to go 8-4 and get back to the MAC title game. This is going to be a fun end to the season when they meet up in Detroit on Saturday.
The RedHawks were red hot the last half of the season as the team won five straight games to get to 7-4 and win the MAC East before falling to Ball State, who will miss the bowl season, in the final game of the regular season. Brett Gabbert has been a great game manager and has done just enough to get his team to wins. The defense has been their biggest reason for success as the team has recorded 35 sacks on the year. However, losing to 5-7 Ball State and needing overtime to be winless Akron is not a good look at all.
The Chippewas won six of their last seven to get to 8-4, including a 49-7 beat down of rival Toledo to close out the season. Jim McElwain has helped turn this team around and they could be in line to rule the MAC for years to come. Kalil Pimpleton and JaCorey Sullivan have been the team’s two biggest weapons, both being over 700 receiving yards. Linebacker Troy Brown is clearly the team’s best player, leading with 77 tackles and three interceptions. Expect them to be ready to bring home a championship.
Prediction: Central Michigan 38, Miami (OH) 17
Mountain West: Hawaii at 19 Boise State
The Boise State Broncos have been the favorite to win the Mountain West all year and they find themselves in that position right now. They will need a win to help their chances in sneaking into a New Year’s Six Bowl game, which they have not played in since winning the Fiesta Bowl in 2014. However, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, who have a surprisingly great season, look to stop them and win their first Mountain West title.
The Broncos have won at least ten games every season but four since joining the FBS in 2001. They are at 11 wins and want to make it 12 with their second Mountain West championship in the last three years. Hank Bachmeier has not been fully healthy for over a month now, so it is still unclear if he will play against Hawaii. However, third-string Jaylon Henderson has done a great job in his and Chase Cord’s place. He threw for 253 and two touchdowns while running for another in the win over Colorado State last week. On defense, Curtis Weaver has continued to be their biggest playmaker, leading the team with 13.5 sacks.
The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors have had a great season and are looking for double-digit wins for the first time since 2010. They already lost at Boise State, 59-37, but they won’t be facing Bachmeier or Cord this time. That could be huge for the Warriors. Cole McDonald is over 3,400 yards and has three receivers over 900, all of whom could be over 1,000 by season’s end.
The Broncos are playing for a conference title, yes, but a win coupled with a Memphis loss in the America Athletic Conference championship could send them to the Cotton Bowl. However, the Warriors nearly pulled out the comeback win over Boise State in October. I think they get it done this time.
Prediction: Hawaii 41, Boise State 35
Pac-12: 5 Utah vs 13 Oregon (Santa Clara, FRIDAY)
This is going to be the most intriguing game to watch mostly because it could decide the four seed in the College Football Playoff and it is the only one being played on Friday. If Utah wins, they are likely going to take the last spot in the playoff. If Oregon wins, Utah will hope to just make a New Year’s Six bowl.
The Utes have been great all year and were a touchdown away from having a perfect season and likely already clinching a spot in the CFP. Most of their greatness has been because of quarterback Tyler Huntley, who in any other season would be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He has almost 2,800 yards passing and over 250 yards with 21 total touchdowns and only two turnovers. Bradlee Anae has been good on defense too, leading the team with 12.5 sacks.
Without being upset by Arizona State two weeks ago, the Oregon Ducks are still firmly in position to make the College Football Playoff. Now they are just playing for a Rose Bowl berth, but still have a chance to cause some chaos at the top of the rankings. Justin Herbert has continued to show why he is a top prospect in next year’s NFL Draft with over 3,100 yards and 31 touchdowns. If they defense can keep playing like they have, the Ducks have a great chance to pull the upset.
Utah will likely get the win in a great game that could go to overtime. The only question remaining after Friday will be where the Utes end up.
Prediction: Utah 34, Oregon 31 2OT
SEC: 2 LSU vs 4 Georgia (Atlanta)
Like Ohio State, LSU is in the playoff regardless of what happens on Saturday. This game is going to have the biggest bearings on what the College Football Playoff looks like. If Georgia wins, they are the 3 seed in the playoff. If LSU wins, they likely become the 1 seed and faces off against another conference champion. To say this game is big is an understatement.
The Tigers have been nearly untouchable in every game this year. They scored at least 42 points in every game but one during the regular season, which has helped them lead the nation in scoring, and, as of late, their defense has played much better. Joe Burrow is the odds on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and it doesn’t hurt that he has three of the country’s best receivers. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has also been great on the ground the last month, so he could be a big difference maker.
Georgia has the defense strong enough to play with LSU. The Bulldogs have 26 sacks on the year, which is exactly how many the Tigers have given up. Georgia has only given up one rushing touchdown all year and only allow 71 yards per game. However, it is hard to see where their offense could keep up with LSU’s prolific passing attack. Georgia puts up a fight, but LSU pulls away in the second half.
Prediction: LSU 45, Georgia 20
Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette at 21 Appalachian State
Appalachian State is perfect on the year other than a three-point loss to Georgia Southern on Halloween. They would likely be looking at a spot in the Cotton Bowl without the loss and there is nothing that could help them right now. Louisiana-Lafayette had a historic 10-win season and look to win their first outright conference championship.
This is a rematch of last year’s inaugural Sun Belt championship game, which the Mountaineers won 30-19. Zac Thomas has had a great year at quarterback for Appalachian State, throwing for over 2,400 yards and rushing for almost 400 with 31 total touchdowns. Shaun Jolly leads the defense with five interceptions so he could make an impact for his team.
The Ragin’ Cajuns are riding a wave of momentum having won their last six games of the season after a 17-7 loss to the Mountaineers in October. The Ragin’ Cajuns will need to get Ja’Marcus Bradley involved early if they are going to have a chance at pulling the upset. However, it just feels like the Mountaineers are looking to win their fourth straight conference title and second outright.
Prediction: Appalachian State 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 14