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College Football ’18: Conference Championship Previews

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It’s conference championship week on the college football season. An exciting time, especially from those teams looking to remain – or possibly enter – the College Football Playoff. There are plenty of intriguing matchups this weekend, including a rematch of last season’s national championship game.

The Game Haus offers a look at each title game. Rankings reflect The Associated Press Top 25 (all times Eastern):


Northern Illinois (7-5) vs. Buffalo (10-2), 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Ford Field, Detroit, MI

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Scouting the Huskies: No team has appeared in the MAC title game more than NIU (eight times), however, it is 3-4 in those previous seven trips. All-American defensive end Sutton Smith leads a unit that’s posted a FBS-best 46 sacks. However, the Huskies offense ranks 121st in scoring (19.9 ppg).

Scouting the Bulls: Led by talented quarterback Tyree Jackson and NFL-ready wide receiver Anthony Johnson, Buffalo looks for its first MAC title since 2008 – also the last time it played in the conference championship. The Bulls, whose 35.3 average points rank 26th in the country, will be looking to snap an 11-game slide versus NIU

Winner: Buffalo


No. 17 Utah (9-3) vs. No. 10 Washington (9-3), 8 p.m., Friday

Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA

Scouting the Utes: This is Utah’s first appearance in the Pac-12 title game, and it enters a winner of three straight and seven of the last eight. The Utes will try to avenge a 21-7 home loss to Washington in September, their fifth in the last six in the series.

Scouting the Huskies: Expectations were higher than a Pac-12 title for the Huskies at the start of the season, but winning the conference championship game is not a bad consolation. Last week’s victory in the snow over then-No. 7 Washington State might end up being the highlight of Washington’s campaign. The Huskies won their only other Pac-12 title game appearance in 2016.

Winner: Washington

Sun Belt

Louisiana (7-5) at Appalachian State (9-2), Noon, Saturday
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Scouting the Ragin’ Cajuns: They’ll enter this contest on a three-game winning streak that helped claim the Sun Belt West Division crown. Sophomore Trey Ragas ranked second in the league with 1,040 rushing yards. Louisiana lost 27-17 at Appalachian State in October, its fifth straight defeat to the Mountaineers.

Scouting the Mountaineers: Scott Satterfield’s crew is a heavy home favorite (minus-17 1/2) to win the inaugural Sun Belt Conference championship game. And with good reason. Appalachian State’s lone defeat since opening with an overtime loss at Penn State came to Georgia Southern on Oct. 25.

Winner: Appalachian State

Big 12

No. 9 Texas (9-3) vs. No. 5 Oklahoma (11-1), Noon, Saturday

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

Scouting the Longhorns: The Red River Showdown, Part II will be tough to live up to the first 2018 installment, but fans can only hope. Texas last beat the Sooners in consecutive contests in 2008 and ’09. This will be the first time the rivals meet in the Big 12 Championship game, and it seems the Longhorns’ chances of doing the double over Oklahoma will be tougher.

Scouting the Sooners: It’s gotten to the point where Oklahoma is content with simply outscoring opponents. The Sooners’ generous defense is literally comical, but trying to stop Kyler Murray and an offense that’s averaging 50.3 points is a nightmare for opponents. Texas did a decent job during its October win, but the Sooners offense is presently playing at a video-game level.

Winner: Oklahoma

Conference USA

UAB (9-3) at Middle Tennessee (8-4), 1:30 p.m., Saturday
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Scouting the Blazers: Two years ago, UAB didn’t have a football program, now it’s playing for a conference championship. However, it must avoid a third straight defeat, and second in the span of a week against Middle Tennessee, which beat the Blazers 27-3 last Saturday.

Scouting the Blue Raiders: Middle Tennessee will again be at home for this matchup. Like UAB, the Blue Raiders are making their debut in the C-USA title game. They held the Blazers to just 89 total yards last week to win for the third time in four games in the series.

Winner: Middle Tennessee

American Athletic Conference

Memphis (8-4) at No. 7 UCF (11-0), 3:30 p.m., Saturday

Scouting the Tigers: Memphis has won four in a row and is set up to take care of some unfinished business against UCF. On Oct. 13, the Tigers led 30-14 late in the second quarter before the Knights scored 17-unanswered points to pull out a 31-30 victory. Darrell Henderson, the nation’s second-leading rusher (1,699 yards) ran for 199 in that contest and might need another big day for the Tigers to seal the deal this time.

Scouting the Knights: They’re focused on winning a conference championship and extending the program’s winning streak to 25 games. The best part is knowing injured star quarterback McKenzie Milton is out of danger following his devastating knee injury versus South Florida. Darriel Mack Jr. takes the reigns of the offense, which looked pretty good with him at the controls against the Bulls.

Winner: UCF


No. 1 Alabama (12-0) vs. No. 4 Georgia (11-1), 4 p.m., Saturday
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Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Scouting the Crimson Tide: The stage isn’t quite as big as it was at the end of last season for this matchup, but there is plenty on the line. Alabama’s comeback victory in the national championship game was its fourth in a row over Georgia – which also included a 32-28 triumph in the 2012 SEC title contest.

Scouting the Bulldogs: The CFP selection committee thinks highly of the Bulldogs, who sit fourth in the rankings. That makes the stakes for this contest even greater as far as Georgia is concerned. The memories of last season’s national title-game collapse must be packed up and put in storage. Georgia’s chance for redemption is now.

Winner: Alabama

Mountain West

No. 25 Fresno State (10-2) at No. 19 Boise State (10-2), 7:45 p.m., Saturday

Scouting the Bulldogs: They get the chance to avenge losses to Boise on two fronts: the 17-14 defeat in the 2017 league championship game and 24-17 setback on the blue turf earlier this month. The latter extended Fresno State’s losing streak at Boise to 10 games.

Scouting the Broncos: A victory will give the Broncos the all-time lead for Mountain West Conference championship game titles (three). Boise is 2-0 in such contests, and they beat Fresno State to claim both of those championships. The Broncos have also won five straight home games against ranked opponents.

Winner: Boise State

Big Ten

No. 21 Northwestern (8-4) vs. No. 6 Ohio State (11-1), 8 p.m., Saturday
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Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN

Scouting the Wildcats: At the beginning of the season, Ohio State was expected to be in this game. Northwestern was not, but the Wildcats swept their Big Ten West opponents and now have a chance to win their first league title game. However, they’ve won once in their last 12 meetings with the Buckeyes.

Scouting the Buckeyes: By dropping 62 on Michigan, Ohio State not only ended the Wolverines’ CFP hopes but improved its own, Though, it will need to win this one and hope for help elsewhere. Confidence appears to have been restored for the Buckeyes, who are trying to repeat as conference champions.

Winner: Ohio State


No. 2 Clemson (12-0) vs. Pittsburgh (7-5), 8 p.m., Saturday

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

Scouting the Tigers: Things continue to set up nicely for the Tigers, who are one win away from likely facing Notre Dame in a CFP semifinal. They enter a huge favorite (minus-26 1/2) to claim their fourth straight ACC title game crown – and record fifth overall.

Scouting the Panthers: Trivia question: Which team handed Clemson its only defeat during the 2016 national championship season? Yes, Pitt – 43-42 at home. That’s also the last time these two teams met. The Panthers are the surprise of the ACC and were rewarded with their first appearance in the conference championship game. Not sure, though, they have enough to pull off another surprise this weekend.

Winner: Clemson

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