Championship Week Preview

We’ve made it to the biggest weekend in college football:  Championship weekend.  It’s the weekend where the College Football Playoff committee actually has to watch all the teams and evaluate them based on their conference placement, schedule, record AND passage of the eye test.  That last one is very important.

As always, the games are great this week.  In fact, one of them is so great that you’re gonna have to wait till tomorrow to find out who I’m picking.  OK, that’s not the reason.  Star Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson is a game-time decision, and with Auburn-Georgia already being an impossible game to pick, his possible absence isn’t making it any easier.  So, I’ll wait to publish my preview on the SEC Championship Game until we know whether he’s playing.  For now, here’s the rest of the power five conference championship previews.

PAC-12 Championship Game: N0.12 Stanford vs. No.10 USC

It’s questionable whether this game has playoff implications, but it’s a power five, top 25 matchup.  And if all hell breaks loose, then USC could find itself in line for a playoff spot.

The Trojans have been pretty up and down.  Though 10-2, they’ve won games they should have and lost their tougher matchups.  Washington State, who was one of those fun, “don’t count us out in any game” teams beat them closely on the scoreboard but pretty convincingly on the field.  It was one of Sam Darnold’s rough games, and USC’s defense couldn’t shut down Luke Falk.

However, the Trojans did beat Stanford in Week 2.  The Cardinal are a weird team.  Their whole offense is Heisman candidate Bryce Love, who’s impossible to bring down and can break away at any time.  Usually, Stanford is a classic ground-and-pound, stout defensive team like Wisconsin.  Not this year.  The Cardinal’s defense hasn’t been its best this season.  Ranked 53rd in FEI, they’ve struggled to make up for the loss of Solomon Thomas.  Yet, they’ve gotten wins against Washington, Notre Dame and Utah.  Let’s take those wins with a grain of salt though.  Notre Dame and Washington have been two of the most choke-prone teams in the country, and Utah always ranked no higher than 15th.  They’re like the cute girl the committee will never ask out.

I’d be tempted to go with Stanford if they posed a threat to Sam Darnold, but the Cardinal defense’s down year sways me against that.  The Cougars defense that gave Darnold trouble earlier in the season is 8th in FEI.  Wazzu was legit.  Stanford just isn’t.

It’s gonna be hard for Stanford to stop Ronald Jones lll too.  He’s ran for an ungodly 16 touchdowns this season with 1,346 yards.  Since Jones has gashed every average-to-good defense he’s faced, I expect him to do the same against Stanford.

Now, let’s not act like USC’s defense is all that either.  But Bryce Love is the only thing they have to focus on.  Stanford’s been through some QB turmoil this season, benching Keller Chryst for K.J. Costello after the USC loss in Week 2.  Costello’s played well, but again, Stanford’s wins haven’t been due to their QB play.  Their 3.01 FEI rating, 16th in the country, can be attributed to Bryce Love.

This game feels like offense vs. offense, and even though Darnold’s not my QB1 in this upcoming draft, he’s good enough to power USC to a PAC-12 Championship.

Prediction: USC-34  Stanford-20

Big 12 Championship Game: No.11 TCU vs. No.3 Oklahoma

Speaking of offense vs. offense…  This could turn into a shootout real fast.

When they played in Week 10, it came down to a couple possessions, though the score wouldn’t suggest that.

With the way these Big 12, high-powered offense matchups work, you have to score every possession.  Or if you don’t score, you better hope your opponent doesn’t.  It seems simple, but it actually is only that simple.  You have to match or improve on whatever your opponent does.

For TCU, it was hard.  And it will be again.  Kenny Hill struggled immensely, not because of a good performance by Oklahoma’s 67th ranked defense, but because Kenny Hill is… well, sometimes he’s Kenny Hill.  He’s essentially the J.R. Smith of college football.

It was a dysfunctional offensive day for the Horned Frogs.  It was one of their two for the season.  Against Iowa State on October 28th, the offense sputtered again, though that could be blamed on the Cyclones’ weird mid-season hot streak where they took out TCU and Oklahoma in a four week stretch, officially earning themselves the frisky label and is probably the reason for Matt Campbell’s extension.

So will it happen again?  That’s impossible to predict.

The Sooners will show up.  Baker Mayfield’s emerged as a serious Heisman contender after the trophy seemed destined to be in Saquon Barkley’s arms all year. Oklahoma is 1st in FEI by a huge margin over Bedlam rival Oklahoma State due to Mayfield’s dominance, a monster duo (and sometimes even a trio) at running back, and receivers who are picking up what Mayfield is putting down.  But really, it’s all Mayfield.

My trouble with picking TCU is that even if they do show up, they lack the sheer explosion the Sooners do on the offensive end.  TCU’s wide receivers are big and strong, and may give trouble to Oklahoma’s average defense.  But that’s gonna require an impeccable game from Hill.  That’s tough to bet on.

Prediction: Oklahoma-38 TCU-24

ACC Championship Game: No.7 Miami vs. No.1 Clemson 

Even this late in the season and after giving them playoff consideration, I still don’t trust Miami.  They’re built on defense and quarterback Malik Rosier playing well.  Oh, and they’ve had a pretty easy schedule.  The Notre Dame win doesn’t look all that impressive now, and Virginia Tech fell off the map quickly.

Clemson’s the best team in the country.  No question about it.  Their defense has played like they haven’t lost anyone.  The offense moves as methodically as last year, with Kelly Bryant leading them downfield with similar poise that DeShaun Watson possessed.  Though they’re 22nd in FEI, there’s been no difference.  The defense has their back if anything falters.

Tomorrow night will be the defense’s night.  Stacked up front and daring you to throw on them, Clemson’s defense is in consideration for the best in the country.  Their defensive line will ravage anyone.  Rosier might have no chance, especially considering wide receiver Ahmmon Richards is now out with a torn meniscus.  Clemson’s gonna be missing Tre Lamar, but they’re so talented that they can make up for it quite easily.

Miami’s defense is stout like the Tigers’, ranked 9th in FEI.  They shut down Josh Adams, but Clemson has many more weapons to throw at them than Notre Dame did.  Kelly Bryant’s just as good on his feet as he is through the air, and the duo of Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster has been unstoppable (Feaster has the best name ever for a running back).  Oh yeah, and good luck stopping Deon Cain down the field.

I think Clemson’s offense will muster enough, and the defense will give Rosier a hard time.  The Tigers are a lock for the College Football Playoff.

Prediction: Clemson-36  Miami-14

Big Ten Championship Game: No.8 Ohio State vs. No.4 Wisconsin

Ohio State should be extremely lucky to find themselves in this spot.  Sure, the Big Ten is a super tough conference.  But the Buckeyes have struggled in certain areas without their record showing it.  First of all, they’ve had a weird effort/not showing up bug about them.  It takes a whole half for them to get going.  That’s not always a bad thing if you can recover from it, which for the most part the Buckeyes have.  But once you start playing the big boys, like Wisconsin or whomever from the Playoff (possibly), that can’t happen.  They won’t let you get away with it.

Wisconsin is also lucky to be here.  Despite being in the toughest conference in the country, the Badgers have been blessed with one of the easiest schedules possible.  Congrats on beating Iowa!  That’s seriously the Badgers’ best win.  You could play the “Well, Iowa beat Ohio State” card, but as I’m about to explain, even that win by Iowa wasn’t all that impressive.  The Hawkeyes were hot and frisky and the Buckeyes were just being the Buckeyes.

Ohio State hasn’t shown up in multiple games this season.  They were down 14-0 to Michigan before coming back last week.  They were blitzed by Oklahoma in Week 2, though I’m not sure you can totally blame the Ohio State defense for being bad when faced with that arsenal.  They failed to show up at home against Penn State before some crazy college football stuff happened.  The defense has been bad considering its expectations, though points per game won’t tell you that (They’re extremely un-clutch; 17th in FEI).

Now, it’s not like stopping Wisconsin’s offense is a very hard task.  They rank 25th in FEI.  Alex Hornibrook is their quarterback.  Like, if Alex Hornibrook beats you, you’ve got a problem.

The Badgers are going to do what they usually do though:  Ground-and-pound with Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor and let their defense do the rest.  Taylor has a ridiculous 1,806 rushing yards on the season with 13 touchdowns.  He’s the Josh Adams to Wisconsin’s offense, since both Notre Dame and the Badgers have below average quarterbacks and skill position players.

Ohio State can and should be able to contain it given their talent, but this season has stoked too many concerns for me to put confidence in that.  If the defense falters, where does the just-as-mediocre offense’s confidence go?

It’s been both sides of the ball for Ohio State.  J.T. Barrett hasn’t been phemonemal even when he’s been healthy.  Now, after a strange incident with a cameraman on the sideline of the Michigan game, Barrett’s playing hurt after undergoing arthosocpic surgery on his knee.

That seems hard to believe.  Doctors have cleared Barrett; it seems more like a procedure rather than a full-on surgery.  If ligaments were damaged there’d be no way he’d play tomorrow.  Urban Meyer casted some doubt today about Barrett’s status, questioning whether he’d start.  Honestly, starting Dwayne Haskins isn’t as bad as it sounds considering where we’re at with our trust level in Barrett.  Haskins was great against Michigan, giving the Buckeyes offense some explosion.  But if he’s forced to play most of the game, then don’t think the Badgers won’t have a plan.  A true freshman (possibly) making his first start against this Wisconsin D in the Big Ten title game shouldn’t go well.

Even with Barrett in, I struggle to believe the Buckeyes will get enough.  This Badgers defense is the best in the country.

Prediction: Wisconsin-28  Ohio State-17