Last week, the college football regular season came to a close. The conference championship games are set, and the yearly speculation about different situations that involve many different combinations of possible matchups for what is likely one of the last 4-team playoffs that we ever see in this league, are as fun as ever. With that being said, let’s go over the most impactful conference championship games to the CFP.
Big 12 Championship Game
#9 Baylor vs. #5 Oklahoma State (OKST -5.5) (63.7% OKST – FPI)
Saturday – 12:00 PM ET – ABC
The general consensus for this game is that if Oklahoma State wins and Georgia does their job against Alabama in the SEC Championship, they will be in the playoff to try to upset the same Georgia team they needed to win.
The main arguing point for Baylor to pull off the upset this game is that they have a statistically better offense than Oklahoma State does, averaging 446 yards per game by using a balanced attack to dissect a team’s defense apart. However, the defense is giving up 348.8 yards per game compared to Oklahoma State’s 276.3. Offensively, you might be able to expect similar performances from Baylor QB Gerry Bohanon and Oklahoma State’s Spencer Sanders in terms of throwing the football. Sanders, however, is more consistent in terms of running the football. While Oklahoma State’s 191.1 rushing yards per game is solid, Baylor’s 227.4 is a far more impressive number. On the flip side of things, Oklahoma State only allows 91.5 rushing yards per game compared to Baylor’s 120.7. Oklahoma State also has a much better pass defense, giving up only a very impressive 184.8 pass yards per game to Baylor’s 228.2.
Baylor, however, has fairly arguably not played as good as a 10-2 team as of late. They beat a very good Oklahoma team by 13, but only beat Kansas State by 10 and Texas Tech by 3 these past couple weeks, and one of their losses was to TCU. Oklahoma State beat TCU a week later 63-17, shutout Texas Tech 23-0, and also got past Oklahoma in their rivalry game last week.
I believe Baylor could fight Oklahoma State for a while, but Oklahoma State’s incredible defense could put them over the top in a fairly low-scoring, 2 score win.
AAC Championship Game
#21 Houston vs. #4 Cincinnati (CIN -10.5) (82.6% CIN – FPI)
Saturday – 4:00 PM ET – ABC
You will probably be busy watching the SEC championship game while this game is played, but it’s definitely worth keeping tabs on. If Cincinnati can win and keep this undefeated season alive, they will almost definitely represent the Group of 5 in the College Football Playoff for the first time in its short history. To assume that Cincinnati will win this game against this Houston team, however, could very well end in a surprise.
We know Cincinnati. They are led by Desmond Ridder who is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. His team averages 430.4 yards per game, most of which are through the air. Not to mention, they score almost 40 points per game. Now, Houston is very similar statistically on offense. They average 38.8 points per game. and 422.6 yards per game. While Cincinnati’s rushing attack is better than Houston’s, the Cougars actually average more yards per game through the air than the Bearcats. The most impressive part about this Houston team, though, is their run defense. Houston doesn’t even give up 100 rushing yards per game, and Cincinnati allows 141.8 per game. But, the Cincinnati pass defense is better by about 30 yards, 161.5 to 191.6 yards in Bearcat favor. Houston has not lost a single game this season after week 1, when they lost to Texas Tech 38-21. On the flip side, Cincinnati had a staple win against Notre Dame earlier this season, which pushed them into potential playoff talks in the first place.
A part of me wants to go with the upset and pick Houston to win, but in Cincinnati, I will take the Bearcats to win by a field goal in this one in a very hard-fought and passionate football game that won’t get as much shine as it deserves.
SEC Championship Game
#1 Georgia vs. #3 Alabama (UGA -6.5) (66.5% UGA – FPI)
Saturday – 4:00 PM ET – CBS
The SEC Championship. Whoever wins this game will most likely be ranked number one in the country this following Tuesday night. However, the stakes are higher for the Crimson Tide, who have shown much more vulnerabilities this season despite a statistically better and more explosive offense. The closest Georgia has gotten to losing a game this season was against Kentucky, and the final score was 30-13. Keep in mind this was after shutting out Arkansas 37-0 and beating Auburn 34-10 in back to back weeks. Alabama has lost a game to Texas A&M already, and have had close calls with Florida, LSU, and Auburn this year. Georgia has been dominant this season, and most signs point to them taking the conference and potentially knocking Alabama out of the playoffs completely depending on the outcome of other games this week.
However, to count out Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide is not the smartest decision. For Alabama to win this game, they need to push the tempo and keep momentum on their side, and they can certainly do so. Even though Georgia allows only about a touchdown per game and about 230 yards, Alabama’s offense is still firepowered enough to fight it. Bryce Young has almost 4,000 yards on the season as well as a 40/4 touchdown to interception ratio, and Brian Robinson has over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns for Bama this year. Alabama has almost 342 passing yards per game compared to Georgia’s 240.3, so if they can turn the game into a sling-fest, Alabama’s passing offense can most definitely duel with Georgia’s any day of the week. However, It will be very tough to score on this Georgia defense. Alabama can do it, but their defense is also going to have to make a couple stops against the incredible offense that Georgia has as well.
Georgia would likely prefer a slower game. If they can contain Alabama’s fire-powered offense, which they are very capable of doing (especially as other teams with weaker defenses have also done so), they can control the pace of the game and methodically drive up the field against Alabama’s pass defense that has shown weaknesses this season. They have a very capable run game that Alabama will have to focus on, and they are good enough at throwing the ball to move down the field in this game and let that carry them to a victory.
Both of these squads are among the best in the country, and this will be a very fun one to watch. This game should be very close with the talent both squads have and Alabama could definitely run some miles with this team, but I’m going to take Georgia by 4 points in a very exciting and heated matchup.
Big Ten Championship Game
#2 Michigan vs. #13 Iowa (MICH -11) (76.5% MICH – FPI)
Saturday – 8:00 PM ET – FOX
The grand finale to Saturday’s games will take place in Indianapolis, as the Michigan Wolverines take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game, their first appearance in this game since 2004. Last week, Michigan defied all odds and upset the then #2 ranked and very talented Ohio State Buckeyes, who they had not beaten since 2011, for a chance to win the conference and ultimately make the playoff.
Both Michigan and Iowa have impressive records, but both squads have had close calls against teams they probably should’ve blown out. Both teams have very great defenses, barely allowing 17 points per game. The difference in this game is Michigan’s offense compared to Iowa’s. Spencer Petras has a very tough task against the Wolverines. He has thrown 9 touchdowns this season as well as 6 interceptions, and has completed 137-236 of his passes this season. Saturday, he faces off against an amazing defensive line (and defense in general), led by potential top-3 pick Aidan Hutchinson, a fifth-year senior who has been breaking records this season for Michigan. They will likely try to run the ball, but Michigan also only allows 123 yards per game against the run. Iowa definitely has a chance in this game if Petras can play smart under pressure, but that’s not the safest bet in the world.
Michigan averages 451.2 offensive yards per game compared to Iowa’s 299. Their rushing attack is led by Hassan Haskins who scored 5 touchdowns against Ohio State last weekend. Cade McNamara has also had a solid season at QB and has shown he can drive the ball down the field at a fairly consistent rate, get the job done, and be a good leader for this offense even though he’s not necessarily a superstar-caliber QB that you see at other schools. He’s 183-284 this year on his throws, and has a pretty impressive TD-INT ratio with 14 touchdowns and 3 picks. The lack of touchdowns isn’t really a concern, as Michigan gets many of their scores by punching the ball in at the goal line once they get down there. Iowa has a great run defense though, as they only give up 105.8 rush yards per game, so Michigan will need to diversify their run play calling in order to keep the ball in their hands and not waste possessions because they get stuffed up trying to repeatedly go up the middle.
Iowa should put up a solid fight in this game, but I believe that Michigan’s talent level will put them over the top in this game by about 8 points in a fairly low-scoring title game.
- Oklahoma State
Photo Credit: CBS Sports