Conference championships will officially be decided in Week 14, which means the games by themselves create extremely compelling matchups. At least a couple of them could well be instant classics.
Whether it’s a revenge subplot for a prior loss, the chance to spoil a more prestigious program’s national title hopes or simply jockeying for postseason position, the college football gridiron has as much to offer now as it has all year.
Read on for a more detailed look at the best games on tap, and the fascinating battles within these high-stakes affairs worthiest of attention.
No. 17 Utah vs. No. 11 Washington
Before Saturday kicks off the majority of the action, Friday’s Pac-12 title tilt pits two outstanding defenses against one another.
The Utes have an excellent, second-year starting running back in Zack Moss. Huskies workhorse Myles Gaskin is even more tenured and accomplished.
Where Washington has a huge advantage is under center. Jake Browning, like Gaskin, is a four-year starter. That experience goes a long way, especially in a game of this magnitude.
If Washington State’s elite passing attack could only muster 152 yards against the Huskies’ secondary in Week 13, it’s hard to imagine Utah having much success. Washington defeated the Utes 21-7 in Salt Lake City in September, so mostly everything is working in the Huskies’ favor.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia
A national. Championship. Rematch. Oh-my-‘Lanta, indeed. Mercedes-Benz Stadium will host this world-class showdown for all the SEC marbles — and a certain College Football Playoff berth.
As no fan will soon forget, the last meeting between these teams was Tua Tagovailoa’s coming-out party.
Tagovailoa rallied Alabama to a come-from-behind, overtime triumph after replacing Jalen Hurts at halftime. He has completed 70.2 percent of his passes, averaged 11.86 yards per attempt and thrown 36 touchdowns to only two interceptions in a Heisman-worthy 2018 campaign.
Bulldogs coach and former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is very familiar with counterpart Nick Saban. However, Saban has never had a stud signal-caller like Tagovailoa, and it’s hard to foresee Smart scheming up anything to stop the Tide from rolling toward a third straight national championship.
No. 2 Clemson vs. Pittsburgh
The Panthers are backing into this conference championship, losing 24-3 to Miami (Florida) in Week 13. The Hurricanes had six sacks. It will soon be revealed why this is important.
Pitt’s finer moments have been exceptional, such as a five-point loss to Notre Dame on the road. That said, the team has looked inexplicably awful far too often to even suggest an upset is possible.
One of Clemson’s biggest strengths is defensive line play. Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant will all play in the NFL. The Panthers’ offensive line, per Football Outsiders, ranks 115th in sack rate for standard passing downs, and No. 113 in passing downs sack rate.
Dearest Kenny Pickett: Stretch those hammies, boss. Anytime you drop back to pass, you’re liable to be running for your life.
No. 25 Fresno State at No. 22 Boise State
The Bulldogs blew a 17-3 lead in Boise less than one month ago. Now they have a shot at redemption on that beautiful, blue Bronco turf — this time for the Mountain West crown.
Senior quarterback Brett Rypien gets a lot of deserved credit for Boise State’s continued success. However, the Broncos’ driving force of late has been Alexander Mattison.
The junior power back has averaged 163 yards on roughly 29 carries and has scored six touchdowns in his last three games. Thriving on a heavy workload at this late juncture is impressive to say the least.
Fresno State must control the line of scrimmage better to have a chance. If it’s a shootout, at least the visitors have Marcus McMaryion, who’s thrown 24 touchdowns and just three picks this season.
Memphis vs. No. 8 UCF
Three of Memphis’ four losses were on the road, and its only home defeat was to UCF 31-30. Now the Knights don’t have McKenzie Milton, who suffered one of the most brutal knee injuries in recent memory this past Saturday.
The Tigers and Knights enter Week 14 with the fifth- and sixth-ranked rushing offenses in the country. Memphis tailback Darrell Henderson has scampered for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns this year.
UCF’s backfield depth is immense, as three ball-carriers have combined for rushing yards: Greg McCrae (895), Adrian Killins Jr. (638) and Taj McGowan (457). Killins also has 17 catches for 385 yards and four scores.
How dual-threat freshman Darriel Mack Jr. fills in for Milton will largely determine whether the Knights can extend their amazing winning streak to 25.
Collin Johnson/Lil’Jordan Humphrey vs. Tre Norwood/Tre Brown
Texas-Oklahoma: A Red River Rivalry sequel to decide the Big 12 and possibly spoil the fifth-ranked Sooners’ CFP aspirations? Let’s go!
Oklahoma’s offense, spearheaded by Kyler Murray, should light it up. As usual. This contest likely hinges on what happens when the 14th-ranked Longhorns have possession.
Johnson (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) and Humphrey (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) are NFL prospects with freakish size-speed combination. The Sooners’ top cornerbacks? Norwood is listed at six feet, 179 pounds; Brown at 5-foot-10, 182 pounds. Both sophomores play with Texas-sized chips on their shoulders.
Those chips should’ve grown to boulders after Johnson and Humphrey combined for 15 catches, 214 yards and two touchdown grabs in the Longhorns’ 48-45 triumph on October 6. Let’s see how the Twin Tre’s respond.
Urban Meyer vs. Pat Fitzgerald
In discussing this Ohio State-Northwestern duel for the Big Ten championship, let’s be honest. Meyer leans more on recruiting and roster talent than coaching ability. He could even afford a three-game suspension.
No. 6 Ohio State still coasted to a 10-1 record until last week’s rout of Michigan. It was the first time some actual, hard coaching appeared to be involved all year. Not only is OSU in danger of an emotional letdown — Meyer has a capable, feisty foe on the opposing sideline.
Fitzgerald perpetually overachieves at Northwestern, despite the school’s tall academic standards and inferior personnel. Yet here the 21st-ranked Wildcats are, posting a second 10-win season in three years.
It’s a credit to Fitzgerald, and don’t be surprised if his expertise makes Saturday’s clash more competitive than expected.
KJ Costello vs. Cal secondary
Stanford’s quarterback faces a Golden Bears defensive backfield that yields 182.5 passing yards per game and only 5.96 yards per attempt. Such numbers are almost unthinkable in the modern era of spread offenses and basketball-like scores.
As Cardinal running back Bryce Love has struggled to back up his 2017 Heisman runner-up effort, Costello has been forced to grow as a passer. Results have been mixed but overall quite encouraging.
Costello heads into Week 14 tied for ninth nationally with 28 touchdown throws. He’s thrown 11 interceptions, though. His gunslinger mentality may prove troublesome versus Cal. Saturday’s hosts are just one off the national lead for interceptions with 17, including five pick-sixes.