It is Championship Saturday in college football. The conference championship games are this weekend and they will settle, once and for all, which four teams are in the college football playoff. Nearly every team that has any shot of making the playoff compete in a conference title game Saturday. Let’s take a look at the games and the implications.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP: The Auburn Tigers face off for the second time in three weeks with the Georgia Bulldogs. This appears to be the winner is in and the loser is out of the playoffs scenario. Auburn thumped Georgia at home three weeks ago, 40-17. The Tigers outgained the Bulldogs by a whopping 488 to 230 yards as the vaunted Georgia running game was held to just 46 yards on 32 attempts. That is a paltry 1.4 yards per rush. Forget the rest of the variables, like how hard it is to beat a quality team twice or the possibility that Kerryon Johnson will not be available for Auburn. If Georgia does not find a way to run the ball better in Atlanta than they did at Auburn, they have zero chance of winning this game. Georgia only committed one turnover in the game and racked up 75 yards in penalties. It was not as mistake prone as some fans want to convince themselves. The contest came down to the Bulldogs inability to handle the Tigers defensive front and I see no reason to believe that will change dramatically in the second game. For what it is worth, Alabama had little success against the Auburn front seven as well. I expect this game to be much closer than the last one, but I think Auburn will win again. The Tigers are playing great football right now and have dominated two #1 ranked teams in three weeks. Georgia on the other hand, has played two real contenders all season. They beat Notre Dame by one point and got thrashed by Auburn. This is the Bulldogs chance to make the statement that this season was truly indicative of the direction head coach Kirby Smart has established for the program and not just the Bulldogs capitalizing on a rather weak schedule. It is also an opportunity to put an end to the curse that has haunted sports in the state for decades. There’s always next year. Auburn 24, Georgia 17.
ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Miami challenges reigning national champions Clemson for the conference title and, most likely, a spot in the playoffs. The Hurricanes managed to remain undefeated all the way until last week when they fell to unranked Pitt. Miami struggled to get the respect their unmarred record would seem to warrant most of the season because the Canes have seldom looked like a championship team in the process. Clemson stumbled along for a few weeks in midseason including a loss to unranked Syracuse, but the Tigers seem to be hitting stride again just in team for the postseason. If Clemson wins, they are absolutely in the playoffs. If Miami wins they are most likely in the playoffs. Needless to say, there is a lot on the line in this game. I expect Hurricane head coach Mark Richt to have his team prepared and a solid game plan in place for Saturday. I also expect him to lose. Clemson 31, Miami 17.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Undefeated Wisconsin takes on two-loss Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Contrary to what some folks have insinuated, Wisconsin is absolutely in the playoffs with a win Saturday. The Buckeyes have a chance to get in with a win. The Playoff Committee will have a tough decision to make between a Buckeye conference champion with two losses and a one loss Alabama team that failed to make their championship game at all. If the committee opts for Alabama in that scenario, Ohio State fans really cannot complain after being the recipient of the exact same consideration last season. This decision tilts even more in Alabama’s favor if Auburn wins the SEC title game as the Tide’s only loss would be to a team in the playoffs while one of the Buckeye’s losses would be a blowout by unranked Iowa. Cheer up Buckey fans, I don’t think it is going to happen to you. I think Wisconsin will put all this talk to rest Saturday night. The Badgers’ defense is the real thing. JT Barrett is nursing an injured knee already and will find himself under pressure much of the game. Wisconsin 28, Ohio State 21.
BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Oklahoma takes on TCU for the Big 12 championship. The Sooners are playoff bound with a victory. There is no scenario where TCU makes the playoffs so this game is for a conference title only for the Horned Frogs. TCU is quite capable of winning this game. They will not be overwhelmed by environment or opponent. That said, Oklahoma is playing great football at this point and Baker Mayfield is a game-changer at quarterback and the probable Heisman winner. The most difficult part for me here in picking Oklahoma is that it would mean that there is zero chaos for the committee if all my picks are correct and that never happens. Even so, I’m going with the Sooners. Oklahoma 41, TCU 34.
PAC 12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: I almost did not even preview this game because it has no bearing on the playoffs. Neither USC or Stanford has any chance of being in the top four teams Sunday night. USC has Sam Darnold. Stanford has Bryce Love. Both are stars who will be drafted high in the next NFL draft should they both decide to declare early. And, I think they both will. Thus, this game is worth watching just to see these talented players in action. Sam Darnold may be the top pick in the draft, but Bryce Love will be the top player in this game. Stanford 24, USC 21.
If my picks are all correct, which is highly unlikely, that would leave us with Clemson, Auburn, Wisconsin and Oklahoma in the college football playoff. In that case, I hope the committee manages to arrange for semifinal games of Auburn-Oklahoma and Clemson-Wisconsin. Enjoy Saturday, it is the last college football before the wait for mostly meaningless bowl games begins.