Each of the eight college football conference championship games will showcase one of the nation’s most explosive offensive players.
Some are well-known names, but you might not have heard of the standouts from Group of Five conferences. However, their highlight reels and place on the leaderboards give clear, unmistakable advice: Watch us.
The list is organized by kickoff time, starting with the MAC on Friday night and ending with the Big Ten’s prime-time battle on Saturday.
MAC: Roger Lewis, Bowling Green
Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers brought the vertical-oriented passing game to the Falcons, and their offense is thriving because of sophomore wide receiver Roger Lewis.
Quarterback Matt Johnson absolutely deserves credit, since he is the one actually throwing passes to Lewis. But this kid is flat-out dangerous. He’s racked up 76 catches, 1,401 yards and 14 touchdowns — the latter two ranking among the top three nationally.
Lewis has eclipsed the 200-yard mark three times and topped 100 yards on four other occasions. He’s caught touchdowns in eight of 12 games, including five multi-score performances.
Northern Illinois better hope its 78th-ranked pass defense rises to the challenge. Otherwise, Lewis is poised for a massive day.
Conference USA: Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky
When the NCAA granted Brandon Doughty a sixth year of eligibility, opposing Conference USA programs had to know their were in for trouble against the Western Kentucky quarterback.
Not only is the senior tremendously productive, but he’s also a legitimate NFL prospect. Doughty isn’t simply shredding defenses, to the tune of an FBS-leading 42 touchdowns, because of a system fit. The dude can sling the football.
Entering the Conference USA title game against Southern Miss, he’s riding a 10-game streak of at least three touchdown passes. Doughty has also thrown four scores or more in six of his 12 outings.
Southern Miss ceded an average of 330.5 yards to Dak Prescott, Tyler Jones, Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Jeff Driskel, the four best quarterbacks the defense faced in 2015. Doughty is a better pure passer than any of those four. Whether or not WKU wins, he should post big numbers.
American Athletic: Greg Ward Jr., Houston
Had Greg Ward Jr. not sustained an injury a few weeks ago, Houston could be 12-0 and demanding a place in the College Football Playoff discussion. Nevertheless, the Cougars still reached the American Athletic Conference Championship Game and can seal a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl with a win over Temple.
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 3, 2015
Because of his dual-threat prowess, Ward is easily one of the most dynamic players in the nation. He’s tallied 2,502 passing yards and 16 touchdowns while tossing just five interceptions, adding 893 yards and 17 scores as a runner.
In eight games, the junior quarterback has bested the 200-yard mark nine times. Ward registered at least 77 rushing yards during seven of those games and ran for a touchdown in the other two.
Deshone Kizer, Matt Davis and Quinton Flowers — the three most mobile quarterbacks Temple has faced — each scampered for at least 90 yards and a score. Ward shouldn’t be any different.
SEC: Derrick Henry, Alabama
Henry leads the country with 1,797 yards and has piled up a school-record 22 touchdowns. Considering the talent that has rolled through Alabama, that’s a remarkably impressive achievement.
The Heisman Trophy favorite has scored in every game, crossing the plane twice or thrice during seven games this year. He’s only notched less than 96 yards twice, which highlights his consistent production for the Crimson Tide.
Dalvin Cook obliterated Florida for 183 yards and two touchdowns last week. Alabama’s offensive line is capable of helping Henry do the same.
Mountain West: Donnel Pumphery, San Diego State
Following a relatively slow start to the season, San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey has found his 2014 stride.
Pumphrey — who slithered through defenses for 1,873 yards and 20 scores last season — has sprinted to 1,464 and 16 this year, which rank 11th and 13th in the Football Bowl Subdivision, respectively. He also has 25 receptions for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound running back has accumulated between 121 and 181 yards in eight straight games, recording at least two touchdowns in five of those matchups and only failing to score once.
Essentially, he’s the engine that drives San Diego State’s offense, and he’s one of the most explosive players you’ve never heard about.
San Diego State should dominate Air Force, a defense just allowed New Mexico to rush for 377 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, for the Mountain West title. Good luck stopping Pumphrey.
Pac-12: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
How could college football’s leader in all-purpose yards not be the most explosive player in this game?
Christian McCaffrey has the fourth-most kick-return yards (922), fifth-most receiving yards (435) by a running back and the sixth-most rushing yards (1,640) in the nation. He’s also now only the third man in history to exceed 3,000 all-purpose yards and is needs just 216 yards in the upcoming contest to move past Barry Sanders for the all-time lead.
At 252.9 all-purpose yards per game, the Stanford running back is one of two FBS athletes to average 200 or more. Tyler Ervin (San Jose State, 200.8) is the other, and the next-highest players are at least another 20 yards behind him. McCaffrey is simply dominating the category.
USC is among the teams most capable of containing McCaffrey, but any lack of success won’t be for a lack of trying on Stanford’s part. The team’s game plan revolves around him, and he usually delivers.
ACC: Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Marquise Williams has a reasonable claim to this spot, but Deshaun Watson gets the nod because of his consistency.
The sophomore quarterback has completed 70.4 percent of his passes — the third-best clip in the country — and has racked up 3,223 yards with 27 touchdowns through the air, tacking on 756 yards and nine scores with his legs.
Since the rain-soaked triumph over Notre Dame, Watson has accrued at 265 passing yards or more in every game except when Clemson obliterated Miami 58-0. He’s collected 90-plus rushing yards four times over the last six outings.
North Carolina’s defense has improved dramatically under Gene Chizik, but the Heisman Trophy-contending Watson presents a bigger test than any quarterback UNC has defended to this point.
Big Ten: Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State
If Michigan State vs. Iowa isn’t a prime example of classic Midwestern football, please direct our attention elsewhere.
Both teams are built on succeeding through execution of fundamentals. The offenses both use a stable of running backs in an effort to control the clock and leave the stadium with a hard-fought, low-scoring victory.
Translation? There is only one noteworthy offensive playmaker in this game: Spartans receiver Aaron Burbridge. His 1,158 yards are 14th-best in the nation, while he’s scored seven touchdowns, too.
Burbridge and Iowa cornerback Desmond King — who leads the FBS with eight interceptions — will engage in one of the best individual battles of college football’s championship weekend.