College football is now hitting the end of the season. Now that more is known about all teams involved, fans can know what to watch for in the coming weeks. This list will narrow it down to five things to watch for in conference championship week.
1. National Championship Game rematch
Last season the SEC was lucky enough to get two teams into the last college football game, when Georgia and Alabama met in the National Championship Game. From that game, the legend of Tua Tagovailoa was born as he led the Crimson Tide to a comeback victory. Now in the SEC Championship Game, the two teams will meet again with a lot riding on the game once again.
Alabama is undefeated on the season and hasn’t really looked beatable, other than a lackluster half against The Citadel. With Tagovailoa as the leader in the Heisman race and a defense that is allowing just 13.8 points per game won’t give a team many holes to exploit. The Crimson Tide will have to remain focused for this game, as their College Football Playoff (CFP) hopes are right in front of them. Even with a loss, ESPN’s Playoff predictor gives them a 50% chance of making the CFP. It is best not to leave it in the hands of the committee.
Georgia has only lost to LSU on the season and with a win will be in the CFP. Their defense allows 17.2 points per game, while their offense relies on several talented players at the skill positions. On the defensive side of the ball, they have had some mishaps because they are young, but the Bulldogs have some great speed. If they can knock off Alabama, Georgia could still see them in the CFP.
2. Red River Rivalry rematch
In another highly anticipated rematch, Texas and Oklahoma will meet in the Big XII Championship Game. In their first matchup, the Longhorns defeated the Sooners 48-45. Can Texas pull off the upset for a second time in one season?
Oklahoma has a high-powered offense that is led by quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray did have two costly turnovers in the first game and he’ll need to avoid doing so again this time. It’s a good thing that the offense is so effective, because the defense is one of the worst in college football, allowing 32.8 points per game. With their offense being so good, all the defense has to do is get a few stops a game to help them win. If Oklahoma wants to keep their CFP hopes alive, they need to win.
There is nothing Texas would want to do more than spoil their rival’s CFP hopes. The Longhorns have stumbled twice since beating Oklahoma and both times came to good offenses. Their defense is one of the toughest in the Big XII, allowing 25.2 points per game. They’ll have their hands full with the Murray-led offense and will need to have a great offensive output themselves. That will mostly fall on the shoulders of quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who has done a solid job leading Texas all season long.
3. Can Ohio State run up the score?
After a surprising upset over Michigan, Ohio State finds themselves with a chance to get in the CFP. Many counted them out after they lost to Purdue, but the way they defeated the number one defense in the country has changed some of the public opinion on the team. Now they need to win big over Northwestern to preserve any chance of making the CFP.
Northwestern had a rough start to the season, going 1-3 with a loss to Akron. They have since rebounded, only losing one game the rest of the way, which came against Notre Dame. Because they average 23.7 points per game and allow 21.7 points per game, they are forced to grind out games. While they may not have the five-star prospects, they are capable of giving Ohio State a game.
Ohio State will be looking for another Big Ten Championship behind a great offense. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins has broken multiple records this season and led a great passing attack. They have had trouble with their defense and running game though. This could hold them back from winning this game or being able to run up the score to impress the CFP committee.
4. Will UCF win without McKenzie Milton?
In their War for I-4 game against USF, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a leg injury that required surgery. The Knights were able to win the game after Milton left with his injury. They’ll need to win in the AAC Championship Game to secure a spot in the New Year’s Six Bowl Game.
The Knights will face off with the Memphis Tigers in the conference championship. The Tigers are 8-4 this season with losses to Navy, Tulane, UCF and Missouri. In their first matchup with UCF they lost by one point in a game they very easily could have won. Memphis will hope their offense, led by star running back Darrell Henderson and Brady White can keep producing. They have averaged 43.8 points per game this season and are why they have won so many games.
UCF will be relying on backup quarterback Darriel Mack to lead their offense. He’ll need to outscore Memphis’ offense, which is no easy task. The freshman threw for 81 yards and ran for 51 yards in relief of Milton against UCF. He has dual-threat abilities and will need to be effective through the air and on the ground for the Knights to have a chance in this game.
5. Fresno State vs. Boise State again
Boise State and Fresno State played twice last season, once in the regular season and once in the Mountain West Championship Game. This season they will face off for the second time in the Mountain West Championship Game, with the winner having the chance to participate in a New Year’s Six Bowl Game if UCF loses in the AAC Championship Game and the committee ranks the MWC team over them in their final rankings.
Fresno State is 10-2 with losses to Boise State and Minnesota. They have a well balanced team with the offense scoring 34.8 points per game and the defense allowing 13.5 points per game. Their offense will have to try to outscore Boise State. Quarterback Marcus McMaryion and receiver KeeSean Johnson are a great tandem that are fully capable of leading them to a good offensive output. Johnson has 1,267 receiving yards on the season and is already among Fresno State’s all-time greats.
The Broncos are also 10-2 with losses to Oklahoma State and San Diego State. They too have both a solid offense and defense scoring 37 points and allowing 22.3 points per game. Their offense is led by Brett Rypien, who has been playing since his freshman season. The experienced Rypien will want to end the season with another MWC Championship and having already won over Fresno State, should be feeling confident.
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