There is a lot on the line this weekend. College football playoff berths, matchups with heated rivals, and conference championship games. But which of the 10 conference championship games should you be tuning in to? Well, the answer is all of them. But I’ll rank them from least interesting to most interesting. Some of these games may not have a major impact, but they sure as hell matter for the schools involved. (Not pictured: Notre Dame. They get to sit at home while everyone else plays a 13th game).
No. 10 – Sun Belt Championship – Louisiana (7-5, 5-3) vs. Appalachian State (9-2, 7-1)
If you haven’t watched this App State team, tune in (Saturday at Noon ET, ESPN). The Mountaineers do virtually everything. They put up 37.3 points a game in the regular season and held opponents to just 15.4. App State’s defense currently sits at 4th in the country for fewest yards allowed. To clinch the east division, App State rolled first-place Troy, 21-10. On the other side, Louisiana has ripped off 3 straight wins, but none of those wins came against a team over .500. The first time these two teams met, App State won 27-17. Both teams look to establish the line of scrimmage running the ball to set up the passing game. This gives the Mountaineers the edge with their great defense. Look for App State to capture the first-ever Sun Belt Championship game rather easily.
No. 9- Conference-USA Championship- UAB (9-3, 7-1) vs. Mid Tennessee State (8-4, 7-1)
Although this game may not have huge significance outside of the conference, it’s going to be a great game if you like football. Both teams finished the regular season scoring an identical 29.5 points per game. But they accomplished this in different ways. For UAB, it’s ground and pound with sophomore RB Spencer Brown. Brown went for 993 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Those 15 touchdowns rank 7th in all of college football. On the other side, Mid Tennessee State gets it done through the air. Senior QB Brent Stockstill ranks 2nd in college football with a 71.2 completion percentage. He tallied 2,852 yards, 26 touchdowns, and just 6 picks. The two teams met last week, where MTSU took home a 27-3 win. However, Spencer Brown only attempted one carry for the Blazers. I like the Blue Raiders to take home this conference championship, but it will be much closer than last week.
No. 8- MAC Championship- Buffalo (10-2, 7-1) vs. Northern Illinois (7-5, 6-2)
There is nothing better than kicking off conference championship weekend with some MACtion. Buffalo comes in fresh off their first 10 win season ever. Northern Illinois began MAC play 6-0 before dropping their final two games. The Bulls use their high octane offense (35.3 PPG) and the QB-WR combo of Tyree Jackson and Anthony Johnson to burst past opponents. Northern Illinois has struggled on offense, but their defense is top notch. The Huskies ranked 26th in total defense and leads all of college football in sacks. Getting to Jackson will be a huge key if the Huskies want to pull the upset. Northern Illinois has represented the MAC West 7 out of the last 9 seasons and yet have not won a single title. On the other hand, Buffalo has only reached the MAC championship once in 2008, where they knocked off No. 12 Ball State. Northern Illinois has the defense to hang around. But Buffalo’s defense is no slouch either, ranked just behind at 27th in the nation. Buffalo keeps their undefeated record in the MAC Championship and Northern Illinois is unable to get the monkey off their back on Friday night. But in the MAC, anything can happen.
No. 7- PAC 12 Championship- No. 11 Washington (9-3, 7-2) vs. No. 17 Utah (9-3, 6-3)
This game would have been a lot more interesting if Washington State had beaten Washington last weekend. But this didn’t happen, so the PAC 12 finds themselves near the bottom of our list. I won’t take away that this will be a great game. Both teams have won three straight, including big wins over rivals last week. Utah knocked off BYU after being down big early. These two teams are very evenly matched. Utah scores a touch more, but Washington has held opponents slightly better on defense. In their first meeting, Washington knocked off Utah, 21-7, all the way back in Week 3. I’d like to take Utah to capture their first PAC 12 title, but last time I tried to pick an upset winner in a PAC 12 title game, Washington destroyed underdog Colorado, 41-10. This is a game that has been won by the higher-ranked opponent every single year. I’ll take the leadership of Jake Browning to capture another PAC 12 title before he declares for the NFL draft.
No. 6- ACC Championship- No. 2 Clemson (12-0, 6-0) vs. Pitt (7-5, 6-2)
Maybe someday the ACC Coastal will find someone to challenge Clemson in the ACC Championship. But not this year. Clemson opens as 27.5 point favorites on Saturday. Pat Narduzzi has done a great job with this Pitt team, turning around a 2-3 season to win the Coastal division. Yeah, Pitt upset Clemson a couple years ago, but that was with Nathan Peterman at quarterback. As much as we rip Peterman for his NFL woes, he was a solid college passer. Pitt doesn’t have that this year. And you can’t ground and pound Clemson. The Tigers are just too damn good at everything. This is gonna be a snoozefest.
No. 5- Mountain West Championship- No. 25 Fresno State (10-2, 7-1) vs. No. 22 Boise State (10-2, 7-1)
Fresno State and Boise State have made the Mountain West relevant. The two teams met earlier in the year at Boise State and the Broncos came out on top, 24-17. Marcus McMaryion (FSU) and Brett Rypien (BSU) represent two of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country. Neither team turns the ball over very often. This game will be won on the defensive end, where Fresno State holds a slight advantage. But the good news for Boise State is that they get to host the championship game on the blue turf. Fresno State is 1-2 all-time in MW championship games, with both losses coming to Boise State. The Broncos are 2-0 all-time with both wins coming over Fresno State. I like Boise State in a very close one, something like 17-14 like it was between the two teams last year in the championship. Boise State has had Fresno State’s number, but I’m sure the Bulldogs would love to flip the narrative Saturday night. This could be one for the ages.
No. 4- American Athletic Championship- Memphis (8-4, 5-3) vs. No. 8 UCF (11-0, 8-0)
Even with the horrific injury to Mackenzie Milton, this is an interesting game. Honestly, I just want to see the reaction from UCF’s fan base no matter how this game goes. With a win, it’ll be the same “We deserve to get in, even without Milton”. But if the Knights lose, I bet it changes to “If we still had Milton, this is a different game”. While this may be true, this is the next man up scenario for UCF. All great teams have to be able to perform under adversary. Redshirt freshman Darriel Mack, Jr is the next man up for UCF. Mack wasn’t great throwing the ball last weekend, but he can get it done with his legs. On the other side, Memphis has quietly put together a 4-game win streak, all of which were won by double digits. The Tigers fought UCF down to the wire earlier in the season, losing 31-30. QB Brady White and RB Darrell Henderson will be too much for UCF on Saturday afternoon. I like the Tigers to win in an upset and finally end UCF’s winning streak. If you like offense, you’ll love the Amercian Athletic Championship game.
No. 3- B1G Championship- No. 21 Northwestern (8-4, 8-1) vs. No. 6 Ohio State (11-1, 8-1)
Northwestern beat Purdue, and Purdue beat Ohio State, so Northwestern will win right? Probably not the best logic. But even if Northwestern played an easier conference schedule, they did go 8-1 with their lone loss being 20-17 at the hands of Michigan. Don’t let the Ohio State-Michigan game cloud your judgment. Ohio State is the same team that was blown out against Purdue and squeaked out wins against Nebraska and Maryland. If Ohio State plays to its fullest potential, it’s not close. But there’s a part of me that believes in Pat Fitzgerald and that stifling Wildcats defense. Clayton Thorson ain’t gonna outduel Dwayne Haskins, but if Northwestern can hold onto the ball this game will stay close. The last three B1G Championship games were decided by a touchdown or less. However, 4 years ago Ohio State blew out Wisconsin, 59-0. Either of these outcomes seems plausible, but I like Northwestern to keep it close and maybe even shock the nation. This is a must-watch game with playoff implications for Ohio State.
No. 2- Big 12 Championship- No. 14 Texas (9-3, 7-2) vs. No. 5 Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1)
Red River Rivalry for the Big 12 Championship is exactly why the Big 12 added a final game. Oh, and because it gives its teams a much better chance to make the College Football Playoff. Both of these narratives are at stake Saturday. For Oklahoma, a win and a Georgia loss to Alabama almost certainly bumps them into the playoffs. And for Texas, they’d love nothing more than to knock off their arch-rival once again. 48-45 was the score in favor of the Longhorns earlier this season. But I’m not sure Texas can keep pace with Oklahoma’s video game offense. The rivalry heated up earlier in the season when Texas QB Sam Ehlinger approached Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray in what he said was congratulating Murray on a good game. Murray, however, took offense to what Ehlinger said and walked off the field yelling at the Texas quarterback. Both Murray and Ehlinger will play a huge role Saturday afternoon. The Longhorns offense has not been nearly as electric as Oklahoma, but their defense has been better. It should be a classic Big 12 matchup. Lots of points, back-and-forth, and very high emotions. That emotion will keep it close early, but Oklahoma has more to play for and has been way too hot of late to drop this one. It’s going to be a madhouse at Jerry’s World.
No. 1- SEC Championship- No. 4 Georgia (11-1, 7-1) vs. No. 1 Alabama (12-0, 8-0)
Shocking that this game comes in at No. 1 on our list. Two Top 4 teams and a rematch of last years national title game is not something you see every day. Alabama at -13.5 seems crazy. But in front of that defense, any number seems possible, especially with Tua Tagovailoa slinging it for the Tide. But both teams score a lot, and they don’t give up much of anything on defense. Jake Fromm has stepped up big for the Bulldogs ever since the early season struggles and whisperings of a quarterback change. D’Andre Swift has been unbelievable at running back for the Dawgs. I think Alabama takes this one, but it should be close. The stakes are pretty simple here. If Alabama wins, they maintain the No. 1 spot for the playoff and Georgia is eliminated. If Georgia wins, let the madness begin.
These ten conference championships are all must-watch. Each game represents the best football that each conference has to offer. Even for the non-Power 5 teams, these games are huge for bowl implications. As for the college football playoff, three spots are still seemingly wide open.