The Preview of the Championship Games That Matter

This weekend is not exactly primed for chaos.

Despite three top ten matchups within the conference championships, the Playoff picture is basically set.  If everything goes right, an Ohio State-Utah and LSU-Clemson Semi-final looks like what we’re going to get.

But there are reasons that may not happen.  Utah, with their nice cushion at No. 5 over Oklahoma, still plays in the Pac-12, a land of complete uncertainty.  Georgia may test LSU more than we think with its suffocating defense, and Wisconsin, fresh off a huge win at Minnesota, could keep things tight with the Buckeyes thanks to their revolutionary (At least, for them) offense.

It’s certainly fitting that the biggest domino that needs to fall comes first in the weekend’s slate.

Pac-12 Championship Game: No. 13 Oregon vs. No. 5 Utah

The most likely scenario gets the Utes in.  They beat an Oregon team that’s had a rough few weeks – losing at Arizona State and struggling early against Oregon State before winning by just 14 in a dreadful 24-10 game – and likely face Ohio State in the Playoff.

But there’s one outcome where the Utes take care of business in San Francisco and don’t get in: a Georgia win.

LSU losing, theoretically, doesn’t drop them from the rankings.  They’d have one loss and be just too good to leave out – they’ve been the No. 1 team in the country for most of the season.

A Georgia win obviously punches them in, and barring anything else, keeps the top four exactly the same for the Playoff.

Utah just has to focus on themselves and get the job done.  They don’t control their own destiny, so there’s no reason to worry about it or overthink it.

It should be an easy task just to take of business.  Oregon has zero momentum coming into the biggest game of their season, and has zero track record showing up for these type of games in the post Marcus Mariota era.

When Utah is healthy, they’re dominant.  The offense is completely different with Zack Moss on the field and in full health.  The senior has ran for 1,246 yards on 200 carries (!!!) with 15 touchdowns this season, and is high on running back boards for the upcoming NFL Draft.  Combine his presence with the rejuvenated Tyler Huntley – who’s actually throwing the ball downfield – and Utah’s offense is a complete reverse of what it was last season.  Huntley is averaging 11.1 yards per attempt and is completing 75.5 percent (!!!) of his passes this season, which has added a totally new dimension to an offense that was predicated on Moss and dink and dunk passing last season.

Arizona State got the best of Oregon by attacking the Ducks secondary deep.  Brandon Aiyuk and Frank Darby ran straight down the field and torched them.  Jayden Daniels made the throws.  Utah has a quarterback now that can now make them too.

Oregon should have that QB talent as well.  But it’s been a rough stretch for Justin Herbert.  His two interceptions at ASU were game-changers, and the underwhelming Oregon State win didn’t make up for the week before with a stat line of 18/30 for 174 yards and a touchdown.

Oregon’s speed is their biggest advantage.  Against ASU, Oregon used a ton of screen passing concepts to unlock their skill position guys.  The Sun Devils have not been a great tackling team this season, so forcing them to execute against speedy guys was a good strategy.

Utah’s defense isn’t ASU’s, obviously.  It’s much better, ranking fifth in Football Outsiders’ defensive FEI.  That might be bad news for the Ducks, especially if Herbert is going to continue playing like he has.

A Utah win kicks a very deserving Oklahoma out of the picture, and that’s assuming the Sooners win.  But Utah’s loss, which is in ways worse than the Sooners’, can be understandable.  Moss got six carries in that late September loss to USC’s third-string quarterback.  Not much else can prove his worth when he’s running hard.  If he does that Friday, Utah should be fine.

Prediction: Utah-31 Oregon-20

Big 12 Championship Game: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 6 Oklahoma

Oklahoma is getting screwed by the College Football Playoff committee.  The Sooners rank 19th in strength of schedule, which is not remarkable, but is considering higher than Utah, who checks in 10 spots lower at 29.  Throw in the third-best offense in the country by offensive FEI (A group that was No. 1 for quite a bit) and the Big 12 not being an overall embarrassment like that other conference and the Sooners should be ranked fifth.  It’s clear we’re at the point with the Pac-12 that the committee is starting to feel bad for them.

Oklahoma doesn’t have zero chance, but it’s slim.  They first, obviously, need Utah to lose.  If that can happen, and LSU takes care of Georgia, the Sooners are in.  Not impossible, but also not likely.

An Oklahoma win and a stunning Ohio State or Clemson loss could generate a chance; Virginia would have to come up extremely clutch as a Buckeye loss may not drop them from the Playoff.  If anything, a Buckeye loss just puts Wisconsin into the playoff, given the recency bias and the fact that a Big Ten title is just more meaningful than a Big 12 one.

Clemson might get the boot with a loss even though it’d be their only one of the season.  The committee ranked them outside the top four in the first installment for a reason.  They’ve been shaky at times this year.

Oklahoma, like Utah, needs some help.  Also like the Utes, they have to worry about themselves first.  That’s the first step to this.

It’s likely beneficial for both that these two teams saw each other just three weeks ago in a WILD game in Waco.  Baylor dominated Oklahoma in the first half, leading 28-3 before halftime.

But the script flipped in the third quarter, just as everyone’s TVs flicked off.  Oklahoma found that deadly offense again and rallied to win 34-31.

Baylor has to do a couple things in this game.  Obviously, not completely choking in the second half would be one of them if not the most important.

Otherwise, the Bears should know that they have an advantage in this game.  Their offense was completely unstoppable early in that Week 10 game.  Oklahoma’s 70th ranked defense by FEI was torched by Charlie Brewer and company, giving them literally zero chance early.  It was 21-3 at the end of the first quarter.

If that’s the case, we should get a shootout, just not as lopsided a one.  Oklahoma, as demonstrated in that game and all season, has terrifying explosiveness.  Jalen Hurts has been ripping balls that we’ve never seen him throw before.  CeeDee Lamb is one of the most electric players in the country. The Sooners will be able to keep up.

Baylor should be able to answer.  Lack of execution as stark as what we saw from the Bears three weeks ago won’t happen again; or at least, it shouldn’t.

Regardless, it likely won’t be enough.  Oklahoma’s firepower is just too scary, and their confidence after the first matchup will be sky high.  What a shame it likely won’t be enough for another Playoff appearance.

Prediction: Oklahoma-48 Baylor-35

SEC Championship Game: No.4 Georgia vs. No. 2 LSU

As covered above, a Georgia upset eliminates any chance for Utah or Oklahoma to squeak in.

Can the Bulldogs do it?

They have to make this a defensive game.  Georgia’s offense ranked 28th in FEI this season, thanks to the second-coming of Dolphins-era Ryan Tannehill at quarterback.  DeAndre Swift has been excellent, but Jake Fromm has accelerated concerns about his ceiling with extremely lackluster offensive outputs this season.  It’s the reason for Georgia’s offensive slide.

Despite the Bulldogs’ third-ranked defense by FEI, LSU feels a bit invincible on the offensive end.  Joe Burrow is likely going to win the Heisman, and betting against him to score points is a death trap. The Tigers’ offense ranked second in FEI this year – a stunning turnaround from where they’ve been the past half decade.

Time after time again, when we’ve thought LSU could face some struggles, they’ve laid waste to good defenses.  They put up 42 points on Florida and 46 on Alabama.  Auburn’s group made them work the hardest they have all year.

That game was tight and low-scoring.  LSU pulled away 23-20 thanks to Burrow sticking it out and Bo Nix looking like a freshman.  Georgia’s a similar team to Auburn.  The defense is going to be there; Fromm may or may not play at a high level.  While it may not have came through in that game, Nix flashed higher ceilings. this season  In a way, he’s much scarier than someone like Fromm because of that potential.  He just didn’t show it against LSU.  With Fromm, you know what you’re getting. There’s much more predictability.  This defense will be ready for that.

Prediction: LSU-30 Georgia-24

Big Ten Championship Game: No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Ohio State

Ohio State might be the only team more dominate than LSU this season.  Every game has been or felt like no contest.  They destroyed Michigan at the Big House.  They went up 21-0 on Penn State before letting them back in the game.  And oh, they completely annihilated this Wisconsin team 38-7 in late October.

The Buckeyes made that “revolutionary” Wisconsin offense mentioned above a non-factor in that game.  Wisconsin looked like a classic Big Ten who ran up the middle three straight times with no luck.  Jack Coan was brutal, going 10-17 with a 108 yards.  Jonathan Taylor only mustered 52 yards on 20 carries.  The Buckeyes completely shut them down, casting doubts as to how legit the offense actually was.

Wisconsin has proved that their passing attack isn’t a fluke though.  They used it extremely effectively against Minnesota to get into this title game – Coan was phenomenal in the horrible Minneapolis weather last weekend.

Him doing that again isn’t only unlikely but is only one piece to a near impossible puzzle for the Badgers.  The ninth-ranked Badger defense by FEI was torched by Justin Fields and company in Week 8.  JK Dobbins had 163 yards and two touchdowns.  Justin Fields threw for two and rushed for one more.

Fields, like Burrow, has an inevitability to him.  No matter what a defense tries to do, it feels as if he’ll figure it out and still dominate.  It’s what makes a potential matchup between the two so intriguing.

Coan and the Wisconsin offense, despite a season full of promise and newfound success, just don’t have that level to them.  That was clear in October.  It’ll be so again Saturday.

Prediction: Ohio State-38  Wisconsin-14