While a lot of focus has already shifted toward the College Football Playoff Rankings set to be released on Sunday, there are big-time conference championship games to be played this weekend. Hopefully all the conference title games will be good, but these previews and predictions are for the Power Five titles.
No. 17 Utah vs. No. 11 Washington | Friday, Nov. 30, 8:00 PM ET | FOX
Coming into the season, Washington expected to compete for a national championship with seniors Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin leading the way. Three close losses—including two in the Pac-12—made that not to be, but the Huskies still have a chance at a conference title and a Rose Bowl appearance, which would be an outstanding season and a great way for the seniors to go out.
Meanwhile, Utah is in the Pac-12 title game for the first time in school history. The Utes are 1-11 all-time against the Huskies, and they lost the head-to-head matchup back in September, 21-7. Utah doesn’t have the talent or experience of Washington, but they’ve shown major flashes and have a solid rushing attack (nearly 200 yards per game) to help keep things close.
I think it might be tight, but I like Browning and Washington’s defense (16.5 points per game, eighth in the country) to get to the Rose Bowl after they won the snowy Apple Cup last Friday.
Big 12 Championship
No. 14 Texas vs. No. 5 Oklahoma | Saturday, Dec. 1, 12:00 PM ET | ABC
In the Red River Showdown earlier this season, Texas was in control for most of the game, but Oklahoma stormed back with 21 fourth-quarter points to make it close. The Red River Showdown II is likely to give people all the scoring they can handle, and the game should have somewhere between 80 and 100 points scored between the two teams.
Because of the lack of strong defense, neither team should be out of it even if it becomes a three-possession game—as the Sooners displayed in the first matchup. Personally, I am not a big fan of the style of the Big 12, as there doesn’t seem to be a huge emphasis on defense and special teams. Situational football should be important and could be enjoyable for everyone to watch, though, particularly in the red zone as the teams look to get seven points instead of three points. This season, Oklahoma has scored a touchdown on 39 of their 57 red zone chances (68.4%) while Texas has scored on 27 of their 42 red zone chances (64.3%)—not elite numbers, so one team could separate by capitalizing on their chances deep in opponent’s territory.
Tom Herman’s teams play well in big games, but it’ll be tough to beat Lincoln Riley’s Sooners twice in one season.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia | Saturday, Dec. 1, 4:00 PM ET | CBS
By far the matchup I am most excited about is the SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia. The rematch from last year’s CFB Playoff National Championship Game could feature two playoff teams from this year’s field depending on how things go, as it’ll be difficult to leave Alabama out without getting blown out, and Georgia would still have a case to get in with a narrow loss. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart get their guys locked in, so all these two talented squads care about right now is winning their conference—and it help should deliver an excellent, well-played game.
There’s no question the Bulldogs lost key players from last season—including NFLers Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, and Isaiah Wynn. However, they might still be best-equipped to give the remarkable Crimson Tide team a loss this season. Some have speculated top recruit and freshman quarterback Justin Fields could have a big role as a dual-threat quarterback that could give Saban’s defense trouble, but I think Georgia will roll with Jake Fromm—who has been great since taking over the quarterback job as a true freshman himself last year—nearly every snap.
Between Fromm and likely Heisman winner Tua Tagovailoa, we’re going to see excellent quarterback play on both sides. I don’t think Fromm is getting the recognition he deserves yet, but this could be a matchup between two players that I think should be debated as the top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft if they both leave school after their junior seasons. If the game is on the line, both guys have shown they can remain cool and deliver strikes when the team is counting on them.
I was leaning toward Georgia at first, but their defense isn’t quite as dominant as it was last season, so I give the edge to Alabama. The game should be very close.
Big Ten Championship
No. 21 Northwestern vs. No. 6 Ohio State | Saturday, Dec. 1, 8:00 PM ET | FOX
Early this season, Northwestern lost two straight to Duke and Akron, so there weren’t many people that thought they’d be close to the Big Ten Championship Game at that point. However, their only losses since then have come against top-ten teams Michigan and Notre Dame. Pat Fitzgerald admirably got his team to stay together, and he has an experienced four-year starter in Clayton Thorson at quarterback, so they shouldn’t be counted out. The Wildcats should make it a close game like they did against the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish.
However, Ohio State is rolling after their stunning 62-39 victory over Michigan last Saturday. The offense has been one of the best in the nation all season, but that performance against an elite defense was on another level. With all of Ohio State’s playmakers, no one is going to be thrilled to see them in the Playoff. I know their defense has looked downright terrible at times this season, but they’re giving up a touchdown less per game than Oklahoma, yet the Sooners get their defensive concerns overlooked to some extent compared to the Buckeyes.
So while Northwestern will battle, Ohio State has too much confidence and talent to pick against them.
Prediction: Ohio State
No. 2 Clemson vs. Pitt | Saturday, Dec. 1, 8:00 PM ET | ABC
They won the game by 21 points and it was never really in doubt, but Clemson gave up 510 passing yards and five passing touchdowns to South Carolina last Saturday. Obviously, that’s a concern, but the Tigers have a top-five scoring defense (14.0 points allowed per game) and a top-five scoring offense (45.7 points per game); Alabama is the only other team top-five in both categories. The performance was probably an anomaly.
Meanwhile, Pitt dropped out of the top 25 this week after the offense couldn’t get anything going in Miami against the Hurricanes. The Panthers nearly upset Notre Dame and they beat Syracuse, but they were also blown out by Penn State and UCF earlier in the year. Overall, they are going to need to put up their best effort of the season and have the ball to bounce their way if they’re going to win the ACC.
Expect the Tigers to win their fourth straight ACC Championship Game.