Rivalry week was somewhat devoid of drama outside of the Iron Bowl instant classic. The top four teams in the CFP rankings all remained the same, but Alabama’s loss to Auburn effectively ended any conversation of playoffs for them. There are some great matchups in the major conferences’ championship games, and some questions left to answer. Are Ohio State and LSU in the playoffs no matter the result of their games? Can Clemson do anything to improve their seeding with another dominant win? If Utah and Oklahoma/Baylor win (and get help with Georgia losing), which one earns the fourth spot? This week’s column will take a look at all of the major conference championships in college football this weekend.
- Last Week: 2-3
- YTD: 32-35-3
Here are my five best bets for the Power 5 Conference Championship games:
*All rankings reflect the latest College Football Playoff rankings
(odds courtesy of FanDuel)
#5 Utah (-6) vs. #13 Oregon
For as much talk as there has been about the dominance of teams like Ohio State and Clemson all year, Utah has been equally as dominant the last two months. Since their loss to USC in September, the Utes have won eight straight games by an average of 29 PPG. They have won by less than 18 points just once in this stretch, and have gone three games without allowing a touchdown. Utah is one of the most physical teams in the trenches in the country. Their defensive line is full of NFL talent, and they have the nation’s best run defense, allowing 56.3 yards per game. If any team is suited to cause havoc on Oregon’s outstanding offensive line, it is Utah.
The Ducks will need to move the ball through the air, as no one has been able to run on Utah all year. That means quarterback Justin Herbert will have to play much better than he has the last two games. Herbert has averaged just a 50% completion percentage, with three touchdowns and two interceptions over his last two games. That will not get it done against Utah’s third-ranked overall defense. Look for Utah to make one last solid statement to the playoff committee in this one.
PICK: Utah -6
Big 12 Championship
#7 Baylor vs. #6 Oklahoma (-8.5)
This is the first of two Power 5 championship games that are a rematch of a regular-season game. Baylor blew a 31-10 halftime lead against Oklahoma, only to be outscored 24-0 in the second half and lose 34-31. Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts totaled 411 yards and four touchdowns in that game and did it all without his game-breaking receiver CeeDee Lamb.
Oklahoma seemingly makes the necessary adjustments one needs to make when playing a team a second time. The Sooners lost their regular-season matchup to Texas 48-45 last year but avenged the loss with a 39-27 win in the Big 12 Championship game. Baylor is on the cusp of big things under coach Matt Rhule, but the stage and moment will be too bright for the Bears in this one. Oklahoma has been there before, and Jalen Hurts has played on the biggest of stages in a national championship game. The Sooners know they need style points to jump Utah in the final CFP rankings, and will look to put on a show offensively. They scored 34 on the Baylor defense with Lamb out in the first matchup, so look for them to be even more explosive in this one.
PICK: Oklahoma -8.5
#4 Georgia vs. #2 LSU (-7.5)
LSU made a laugher out of what many expected to be a tough regular-season finale against Texas A&M. Quarterback Joe Burrow likely ended the Heisman discussion with a 353 yard and three-touchdown performance in a 50-7 blowout. Momentum is riding high for the Tigers who have not won by less than 21 points in three weeks.
Georgia’s win over Georgia Tech was a costly one last week. Leading rusher D’Andre Swift left the game early with a shoulder injury, though he declared he will be fine for this game. In addition, their leading receiver George Pickens is suspended for the first half after throwing punches at a Yellow Jackets player last week. While many people will look at the Bulldogs offense being compromised in this one, this is a perfect opportunity to buy low on Georgia. The Bulldogs have the fourth-ranked total defense in the country, and second in terms of PPG allowed. They will shock LSU with their physicality, just like Auburn did when they held LSU to a season-low 23 points.
Georgia needs to weather the storm for a half until Pickens returns and the offense becomes more dynamic. The game is played in Atlanta, where one would expect more of a Georgia contingent. In addition, Georgia is making their third consecutive SEC championship appearance, while LSU has not been there since 2011. The Bulldogs will make this an ugly football game, limit LSU’s possessions, and battle the Tigers until the final minute.
PICK: Georgia +7.5
#23 Virginia vs. #3 Clemson (-28)
Clemson has not been challenged since their September 28th close call against North Carolina. Since then, they have won their games by an average of 41.7 PPG. They are the defending national champions and possess one of the most explosive and balanced offenses in the country. Teams must pick their poison between defending Travis Etienne who is averaging 8.3 YPC, or stopping future NFL receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross.
The thing I worry about with Clemson is complacency. They must be thinking that the ACC Championship is a formality at this point before the season really begins in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Virginia will be fired up to make their first-ever ACC Championship appearance. They have the personnel to sustain drives and keep Clemson’s high-powered offense off the field. Bryce Perkins is one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. He will look to build off his impressive performance against Virginia Tech. This game may not be close in the fourth quarter, but 28 points is too much to lay.
PICK: Virginia +28
Big Ten Championship
#1 Ohio State (-16.5) vs. #8 Wisconsin
Wisconsin has lost seven straight to Ohio State, and 10 of their 11 last meetings. The Buckeyes trounced the Badgers 38-7 in Columbus, and 11 of Ohio State’s 12 wins this year have come by 24+ points.
Though the score from the first meeting reflects a blowout, Wisconsin trailed just 10-7 in the third quarter. The game seemed to spiral away from them quickly after a couple of turnovers, and their offense is not built to play from behind. The Badgers defense has shown a tremendous ability to limit big plays lately, and they just thwarted one of the most explosive offenses in the conference in Minnesota last week. Expect a heavy dose of running back Jonathan Taylor (1,761 yards on the season) to kill time of possession and keep Ohio State’s offense off the field.
If Wisconsin can play a cleaner game, this will be a close game for four quarters instead of three. The fact that they have seen Ohio State’s offense in person means there won’t be any surprises, and they can scheme differently than the first game.
PICK: Wisconsin +16.5