Five things to watch for in conference championship week
College football is winding down, but before bowl season comes, conference championships are left. With so much good football this weekend, here are five things to watch:
1. Two great defenses going at it in Atlanta
Georgia and Auburn get a chance to play again in the SEC Championship. It’s not often that a rivalry game ends up happening in the conference championship games, but this one should be exciting. Both teams will be going at it hard to try and clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff (CFP).
The Bulldogs have the fifth best scoring defense in the country and are hoping they can do more to stop Auburn this time around. Georgia allowed 40 points, which is by far the most they have allowed all season. Their front seven is going to need to step up to stop a potent rushing attack. They have the talent, with NFL-bound players like Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter, but they didn’t step up last time.
Auburn ranks ninth in scoring defense. The Tigers run the football and play good defense, much like Georgia, which is usually a good recipe to win a lot of games. They have given up 27 points twice, but that is the most they have allowed in a game all season. For this matchup, they will be tasked with stopping all of Georgia’s great running backs. They should be able to continue doing what they have been doing.
Get ready for yet another defensive and physical game in the SEC Championship.
2. Can Miami dethrone Clemson?
Miami and Clemson meet in the ACC Championship Game on Saturday night. While Clemson’s resume is very impressive, Miami’s leaves a lot to be desired. At the end of the day though, if Miami can win, they are in the CFP.
Clemson is battle-tested, having faced eight teams that will likely get bowl invites. They did lose a game to Syracuse, but their quarterback, Kelly Bryant, wasn’t 100% healthy and had to leave the game. The Tigers have so many other good wins that they have still put themselves in a good position to make the CFP.
The Hurricanes have been one of the best stories in college football this season. Mark Richt has started the process of bringing the “U” mentality back to Coral Gables. They do have a loss to a lackluster Pitt team they suffered this past week, but the main thing that is concerning is their wins. Their wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, which were good wins at the time, look a lot worse now that Notre Dame lost again and the Hokies nearly dropped out of the rankings. To compound some of their concerns, they pulled their starting quarterback, Malik Rosier, near the end of the game against Pitt.
Miami will be the underdog in this game, but usually that’s how it works until the top dog is knocked off.
3. Wisconsin’s perfect season on the line
Wisconsin is another team that has been criticized for not playing a very difficult schedule. They are undefeated and now will get their chance to prove to the world, and more importantly the committee, that they can beat a good team. Ohio State still has a chance to make the CFP, with some help, so a lot is at stake here.
The Badgers need to win to make the CFP, just like every other team playing this weekend. They haven’t played any premier teams and are doubted by a lot of people. Wisconsin can run the ball and play defense like most years. In what should be a low-scoring game, Jonathan Taylor will need to make big plays in the running game to set up Alex Hornibrook in good situations to throw the ball downfield. If Taylor can’t, Wisconsin will not be able to move the football.
Ohio State has been up and down all season. Their inconsistencies are in all three phases of the game. There are a lot of questions surrounding this team, especially after J.T. Barrett went down with an injury against Michigan. Dwayne Haskins came in and made some good throws to help keep Ohio State in this position. No matter who the quarterback is, the Buckeyes are favored and should be able to run the ball well.
Another conference championship game that should be low-scoring, the Big Ten Championship Game, will ultimately let everyone know if Wisconsin is for real or not?
4. Oklahoma’s potent offense vs. TCU’s balanced team
The Oklahoma Sooners and TCU Horned Frogs will have a rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game. The Big 12 moved to a championship game to get a better chance of having a team in the CFP, but this year it can backfire on them if TCU pulls off an upset.
Oklahoma will have Baker Mayfield for the full game this weekend, and he won’t disappoint. The Sooners’ offense has scored 45.3 points per game, with the fewest in a single game being 29. There will be fireworks when Mayfield and the offense take the field. He is still trying to pad his stats to win the Heisman Trophy, but already has over 4,000 yards passing.
TCU, on the other hand, has a top ten defense and a top 30 offense in terms of points allowed and points scored. Their offense won’t be explosive, but will take what the Oklahoma defense gives them. The defense will be tasked with slowing down Mayfield, something they failed to do in the first meeting.
The only question that remains is: Can TCU play spoiler for the whole Big 12 conference?
5. Offense, offense and more offense in the AAC Championship Game
The AAC Championship Game is going to be one of the more entertaining games to watch this weekend. Not only will the winner likely go to a New Year’s Six bowl game, but it will have a lot of offense and scoring along the way.
UCF is undefeated, and quite honestly, should be way higher up in the CFP standings. They have the highest scoring offense in the country, averaging 47.6 points per game. McKenzie Milton has been able to spread the ball around from his quarterback position, to get the Golden Knights to such a good standing. It’s only Scott Frost’s second year and he is already playing in the league title game with a lot on the line.
Memphis has lost only one game, coming at the hands of UCF. While the offense is only the fourth best in terms of scoring, they probably have bigger stars than UCF. Riley Ferguson has thrown for 3,500 yards in just 11 games. His top receiver, Anthony Miller, has made so many highlight plays and has 1,212 receiving yards. Look for Ferguson and Miller to connect a lot in this game.
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