If the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that we don’t have a clue what to expect heading into college football’s championship weekend.
With most of the teams around the nation having already concluded their seasons, the eyes of the college football world will be on the conference championship games, along with some Big 12 matchups that will have some bearing on bowl season.
As it relates to the College Football Playoff, there are four games in particular that will help clear things up a bit, starting Friday night when Washington and Colorado square off in the Pac 12 Championship Game.
Then on Saturday, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will go head to head in the de facto Big 12 title game, Clemson will take on Virginia Tech for the ACC title and Wisconsin will battle Penn State for the B1G championship title.
As we prepare for these pivotal contests, these are the eight key things we’ll be focusing on this weekend.
1. Can Ohio possibly upset Western Michigan?
Early Friday night the MAC title game will be contested at Ford Field in Detroit between Ohio and undefeated Western Michigan.
The Bobcats likely have no chance to win this game. They come into it without any real momentum, having lost to Central Michigan a couple weeks back before eking out a 9-6 win over Akron last weekend.
Their opponent this weekend has more momentum than any team in the nation besides Alabama. The Broncos have won all 12 of their games this year and haven’t had an opponent come within two touchdowns of winning since they beat Northwestern by one point in Week 1.
Featuring a receiver, Corey Davis, who is likely to go in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, a quarterback in Zach Terrell who has 30 touchdowns and just one interception all year and a rushing attack that tallied nearly 3,000 yards this year, the Broncos are a buzzsaw spinning at the highest speed.
Western Michigan’s defense isn’t spectacular, but it is formidable enough to give the Bobcats trouble this Friday night.
Ohio comes into the game averaging under 27 points per game and is ill equipped to keep up with its opponent on offense. Defensively, the Bobcats have not the defensive secondary players nor the requisite front line to slow down the offense they face.
It’s going to likely be another blowout victory for the Broncos, who deserve top billing in a big bowl game this January.
2. Colorado’s defense has to be razor sharp to take down Washington
The Pac 12 Championship Game Friday night in Santa Clara is an interesting matchup between teams that somewhat resemble one another. They both love to run the ball, feature strong defenses and playmaking quarterbacks who can make defenses pay deep.
Both lost to USC this year, and Colorado lost to Michigan, falling in the second half after quarterback Sefo Liufau left with an injury.
Liufau can drop dimes, and he’s dangerous running the ball. But he only has 11 touchdown passes this year.
Washington’s defensive front is among the best in the nation, and its back end loves to take advantage of the pressure. It’s reasonable to assume Liufau will face pressure unlike anything he’s seen all year in this game. Colorado isn’t going to win this game by pounding the rock all game long, either.
As good as Colorado’s defense is, it has not seen the likes of John Ross and Dante Pettis. Also, Jake Browning is one of the most efficient passers in the nation, and he has the added benefit of a rock solid rushing attack to balance things out.
Washington is just a bit too loaded offensively in this scribe’s estimation to lose this game. Colorado’s worst-to-first story is among the best of the year in college football, but that story will come to an end when the Huskies win the Pac 12 title handily Friday night.
3. Will Navy steamroll Temple?
Based on Navy’s last performance, it would be easy to assume the Midshipmen will roll over Temple in the AAC Championship Game Saturday. After all, they put up 75 points and 496 yards on the ground in a spectacular showing of rushing prominence. Navy also used every single player on its roster except for its punter, which was not once needed, per ESPN.
Navy has averaged nearly 42 points per game this year and features the second-ranked rushing attack in the nation.
But Temple is no slouch offensively either, which could pose a problem for the Midshipmen. You see, for as potent as Navy’s offense is, the team’s defense is prone to giving up big plays of its own. With that in mind, this title game could end up being quite the barn burner.
Also, the Owls are feeling a bit of a chip on their shoulder for this matchup.
“Nobody believed we were going to win this championship at the beginning of the year, but we did though,” quarterback Phillip Walker said, per Stats LLC. “We lost our first game and then lost our third game and our goal was still right in front of us. We won the east side now, we just have to get prepared for next week.”
Navy is playing for its first conference title in its 136-year history. The Midshipmen will be fired up for this game. But we’re not predicting a one-sided battle. It will be quite the war of wills between these two schools.
4. Bedlam as Oklahoma hosts Oklahoma State
It’s a shame this de facto Big 12 title game won’t likely mean anything as it pertains to the CFB Playoff. The conference is so weak that even if Oklahoma wins to finish the season on a nine-game winning streak with a 10-2 record, it will almost certainly find itself well outside the top four heading into bowl season.
Still, there is a lot of pride on the line, and the game should feature plenty of fireworks on the big stage.
It’s the second year in a row that the conference title was determined in the final game of the season between these two teams. Baker Mayfield and Co. stole the show last year, winning in blowout fashion, 58-23. We won’t be shocked by a similar result in this game, either.
Mayfield has been tremendous for the Sooners all year, throwing at least two touchdown passes in every game and finishing the regular season with 22 total touchdowns in his final five games.
Mason Rudolph hasn’t been quite as prodigious for the Cowboys and cooled off in his last couple of starts, but he’s surely capable of surviving in a shootout with Mayfield.
The biggest difference between these two Big 12 powerhouses is that the Sooners can be downright bullies in the trenches running the ball. Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine have combined to rush for more than 1,800 yards with 17 touchdowns this year and figure to be a huge factor in this game.
We’re predicting a two-score win for the Sooners, which will earn a New Year’s Six bowl berth in the process.
5. Plenty on the line for Baylor and West Virginia
The 2016 season has been a huge disappointment for the Baylor Bears, but they have a chance to improve their bowl status with a huge win against West Virginia this weekend. With a record of 6-5, they have lost their last five after opening with six straight wins, so finishing on a high note would do a ton for morale and help the program (under a new head coach) move into the 2017 campaign with a bit of momentum.
Freshman quarterback Zach Smith has his hands full going up against a West Virginia defense that has allowed under 24 points per game this year. If he can avoid turning the ball over, however, then the Bears have a chance to pull off a shocker.
If we’re being honest, though, it’s hard to believe the Mountaineers will fall in this game.
Coming off a blowout win over Iowa State, West Virginia has an explosive, balanced offense that should take advantage of a porous Baylor defense. Freshman running back Martell Pettaway went for 180 yards and a touchdown in his first start of the season last week, and Skylar Howard has thrown seven touchdowns in his last two games.
A win for the Mountaineers would see them finish with 10 wins for the ninth time in program history. It would also set them up nicely for a premier bowl game this holiday season.
6. Can the Gators hang with Alabama?
Florida comes into the SEC Championship Game with a significant limp, having gotten thrashed last weekend by Florida State after barely getting by LSU the week before. Without any real momentum at all, the Gators are likely going to get thrashed yet again this Saturday against Alabama, which has been steamrolling opponents all year long.
The biggest problem facing Florida is that its offense is the opposite of explosive. It is a plodding unit that has very little firepower, either via the passing game or on the ground. That’s a losing recipe going up against the top defense in the nation.
Alabama’s defensive line is going to eat Florida’s offensive line for breakfast, in this scribe’s opinion.
And while Florida’s defense has kept the team in games most of the year, it was demolished by the likes of Dalvin Cook and Co. last weekend. And no offense intended to FSU, but the Seminoles, as an offensive unit, have nothing on Jalen Hurts, Bo Scarborough, Damien Harris and Co.
On paper, the Crimson Tide should make a light snack out of the Gators. And there is no chance of this team taking Florida lightly, either. When in discussion with reporters about the idea that Alabama doesn’t need to win this game to get into the Playoff, Nick Saban went on a bit of a rant Monday (more on that here).
He’s the most driven coach in the nation and will have his players ready for a serious battle to win the SEC crown.
7. Stakes couldn’t be higher for Clemson against Virginia Tech
For Clemson, this upcoming ACC Championship Game represents a ticket to the College Football Playoff. Coming into the game as the No. 3 seed in the latest rankings, a conference title win and the Tigers are in. Period.
Based on last weekend’s dominating game at home against South Carolina, one could assume Deshaun Watson and his offense are ready to put on another show this weekend. But it would not be a good idea to assume anything about this team, which has barely scraped by some weekends this year against teams that should have had no chance of hanging around.
That said, it sure seems like Dabo Swinney has his team in a great place heading into bowl season. He’s used a lot of underclassmen this year to keep his veterans fresh and give the young guns invaluable experience heading into the big games this winter.
Virginia Tech features an offense that could potentially hang with Watson and Co. in this game. Led by junior college transfer dual threat quarterback Jerod Evans, the Hokies have put up some outstanding overall numbers this year and have exploded with big games at times, including last weekend’s 52-10 blowout over Virginia.
We’re not expecting a blowout for Clemson in this one, but the Tigers should win by a score or two.
8. How much does is B1G title worth?
The B1G Championship Game featuring Wisconsin and Penn State is perhaps the most interesting of the title games this championship weekend. We can assume Ohio State is already in the Playoff by virtue of its No. 2 ranking heading into the weekend. So does it even matter which team wins when it comes to the top four?
Unfortunately, probably not.
Of course, if Washington and Clemson both lose, then it’s not crazy to think perhaps the winner of this game gets into the Playoff. Then again, Michigan has beaten them both and currently sits at No. 5. Likely, if both the Huskies and Tigers went down, the Wolverines would move into the No. 3 spot with perhaps the Colorado Buffaloes moving into No. 4. After all, there’s no way three B1G teams are getting in, let alone two, right?
The committee that decides these rankings has quite a mess on its hands. Of course, it’s far more likely that both Washington and Clemson will both win, making its job much, much easier.
Both the Badgers and Nittany Lions have done plenty to deserve national recognition. And if you ask their head coaches, of course the winner of this game should get in over Michigan.
“I think you can make the argument that the Big Ten is stronger than any conference in the country,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said, per Campus Insiders. “If you’re playing in the Big Ten Championship Game, both have earned it. I think it has to carry weight (for the CFP committee). Championship games should carry a lot of weight, in my mind.”
This game should be the most competitive of the title games this weekend. Both teams feature outstanding talent and depth in the trenches, love to run the ball and typically don’t give up big plays defensively.
Penn State has won eight straight games since starting 2-2 and has the signature win over Ohio State on its resume. Wisconsin came within two total touchdowns of matching Michigan and Ohio State, its only two losses of the year.
We cannot wait for these two teams to clash Saturday night. And we hope, along with Franklin, that the winner gets into the Playoff.