Championship Week: Saturday Breakdowns, Predictions, Bowl & Playoff Implications
What’s going to happen in all of the biggest Saturday games in what should be one of the biggest days full of championship games ever? Check out the quick breakdowns, predictions, and bowl and playoff implications.
ACC Championship: No. 3 Clemson (11-1) vs. No. 23 Virginia Tech (9-3), 8:00 pm ET, ABC
Why This Matters: If Clemson wins, it’s a near-lock to be in the College Football Playoff – most likely the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Lose, and the ACC is out of the CFP. If Virginia Tech wins, it’ll be in the Orange Bowl to face – most likely – Michigan.
What You Need To Know: Clemson is coming in on a roll. Looking for its second straight ACC title, the Tigers have cranked up the offense ever since a close call overtime win over NC State in mid-October. Despite three interceptions in the shootout loss to Pitt, QB Deshaun Watson is playing like a Heisman contender again, while the defense has been stellar – for the most part – allowing 13 points or fewer in three of the last four games.
Virginia Tech is more than good enough to ruin Clemson’s College Football Playoff chances, winning five of its last six games. Battle-tested, the Hokies have been through their share of tight games with a good enough defense – it’s phenomenal on third downs – and a dangerous enough quarterback in Jerod Evans to pull off the one win several CFP-hopeful teams desperately need.
What’s Going To Happen: Virginia Tech will give Clemson a mighty scare, but the veteran, talented Tigers have been waiting for this moment. It’ll be a fight, but they’ll once again be off to the playoff.
Prediction: Clemson 34, Virginia Tech 23
– The full ACC Championship breakdown and preview
American Athletic Conference Championship: No. 19 Navy (9-2) vs. Temple (9-3), 12:00 pm ET, ABC
Why This Matters: Here’s where it all gets screwy. Navy still has a game to play against Army. If it obliterates Temple, the College Football Playoff committee might have to delay the Cotton Bowl matchup – the top-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences gets an automatic bid into a New Year’s Six game – until after the Army-Navy game.
What You Need To Know: The Navy rushing attack continues to dominate, coming into the AAC Championship No. 2 in the nation averaging 342 yards per game for an offense that’s hung up 42 points or more on the board in six of the last seven games – scoring 141 points in the last two wins over East Carolina and SMU.
Temple has a more balanced offense, but it’s calling card is a swarming defense ranking third in the nation in yards allowed. The secondary doesn’t give up a thing, and the attacking front seven is suffocating against the run. On a six-game winning streak, the Owls have allowed a total of 23 points in the last four games.
What’s Going To Happen: The Temple defense will rise up. Losers of last year’s AAC Championship, the Owls will slow down the Navy ground game before it can get into a groove, while the offense will beat the Midshipmen at their own game by grinding out long drives.
Prediction: Temple 30, Navy 26
– The full AAC Championship breakdown and preview
Big 12: No. 10 Oklahoma State (9-2) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma (9-2), 12:30 pm ET, FOX
Why This Matters: The Big 12 won’t have an official conference championship game until next year, but the winner of the Bedlam rivalry will be the league’s, as the conference puts it, One True Champion. There’s still an outside shot of the winner getting into the College Football Playoff, but the winner will likely end up in the Sugar Bowl vs. – most likely – Auburn.
What You Need To Know: Oklahoma is doing it again. Last year it got into the College Football Playoff with the unstoppable offense rolling at just the right time, and while the CFP might be just out of reach this year, everything is clicking for the nation’s most efficient passing attack and No. 2 scoring offense. There’s balance, pop, and explosion for an attack that’s leading the way to an eight-game winning streak.
Oklahoma State has been forgotten about ever since the loss to Baylor, but it’s on a seven-game winning streak with a devastating offense of its own. The D has been hit-or-miss over the last few weeks, but the Cowboy O has the firepower to hang with the Sooners for full four quarters.
What’s Going To Happen: Shootout, shootout, shootout. Both teams are going to alternate hitting home runs with two of the best pitch-catch combinations in college football – Baker Mayfield-to-Dede Westbrook for Oklahoma, and Mason Rudolph-to-James Washington for OSU – putting on a show.
Prediction: Oklahoma 48, Oklahoma State 40
– The full Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma breakdown and preview
Big Ten: No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 6 Wisconsin, 8:00 pm ET, FOX
Why This Matters: The Big Ten Championship won’t quite know where they stand, with the ACC Championship going on at the same time, but there will be some scoreboard watching. If Clemson loses to Virginia Tech, the door might be open for the Big Ten champ and Ohio State to get into the College Football Playoff. However, if the winner in Indianapolis wins in a blowout, it might get in no matter what. At worst, the winner will go to the Rose Bowl. The loser – as long as it doesn’t get destroyed – could still end up in a New Year’s Six game, possibly the Cotton Bowl.
What You Need To Know: Penn State has been thrilling, coming back in miraculous fashion against Minnesota to spark an eight-game winning streak to throw a massive wrench into the College Football Playoff system. With the win over Ohio State in late October, and with an offense that’s been unstoppable – at least in the second halves of games – ever since, they’re doing everything right to make a playoff statement.
Wisconsin lost to Ohio State in overtime, and battled Michigan hard in a 14-7 loss. Other than that, it’s been dominant as the year has rolled on. They might not be flash-and-dash, but with the nation’s No. 7 defense, an improving offensive line, and an attack that leads the country in time of possession, the Badgers are crushing everyone over the last month.
What’s Going To Happen: The Wisconsin formula works. Penn State has the deep ball ability to loosen up the Badger D, but the UW O will grind out drive after drive in the second half, keeping star RB Saquon Barkley and the dangerous Nittany Lion attack on the sidelines for way too long.
Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Penn State 20
– The full Big Ten Championship breakdown and preview
Conference USA: Louisiana Tech (8-4) vs. Western Kentucky (9-3), 12:00 pm ET, ESPN
Why This Matters: Neither one has a reasonable shot at being the Group of Five conference champion in the New Year’s Six, and both teams will be thrown into the bin of Conference USA bowl ties, but if nothing else, this is almost certainly guaranteed to be the most fun game of the weekend.
What You Need To Know: The two played, arguably, the best game of the 2016 college football season, with WKU roaring back with a wild fourth quarter, only to come up a little short in a 55-52 loss back on October 6th.
The Hilltoppers have the nation’s eighth-best passing attack, with QB Mike White and his devastating receiving tandem of Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris combining for close to 2,500 yards and 27 scores.
On the other side, Louisiana Tech has the nation’s fourth-best passing game, with QB Ryan Higgins combining with his wide receiver duo of Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson for close to 2,700 yards and 26 touchdowns.
What’s Going To Happen: Get your popcorn ready. The two teams will once again put on a wild firefight with each one bombing away at will. Only this time around, at home, WKU won’t get off to such a slow start.
Prediction: WKU 48, Louisiana Tech 44
– The full Conference USA Championship breakdown and preview
Mountain West Championship: San Diego State (9-3) vs. Wyoming (8-4), 7:45 pm ET, ESPN
Why This Matters: It doesn’t to the overall New Year’s Six or College Football Playoff world. Both teams will dive into the Mountain West bin of bowl ties, with San Diego State likely to stay home for the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl vs. BYU, and with Wyoming possibly going to the Las Vegas Bowl.
What You Need To Know: Both teams come in limping. San Diego State took its foot off the gas after wrapping up the West title in mid-November, and it showed in a 34-33 loss at Wyoming just a few weeks ago, and followed up by a puzzling 63-31 loss to Colorado State. However, the defending Mountain West champ has a tremendous veteran defense and an all-timer of a running back in Donnel Pumphrey, with both being held down a bit waiting for this this game.
Wyoming has been one of the nation’s best rags-to-riches stories, shocking the Mountain West with a balanced and explosive offense to offset a spotty D. However, the Cowboys have lost two of their last three with the defense giving up 69 points to UNLV and 56 to New Mexico.
What’s Going To Happen: San Diego State will turn it back on. Wyoming and RB Brian Hill will have their moments, but the Aztec defense will look the part again now that it’s playing in a game that really matters.
Prediction: San Diego State 34, Wyoming 23
– The full Mountain West Championship breakdown and preview
SEC Championship: Alabama (12-0) vs. Florida (8-3), 4:00 pm ET, CBS
Why This Matters: Unless something completely insane happens, Alabama will be in the College Football Playoff no matter what – win or lose. Florida can go to the Sugar Bowl with a win.
What You Need To Know: There are just two unbeaten teams left in the FBS – Alabama and Western Michigan. Unlike last year, on the way to the national title, this season’s Crimson Tide team appears to be getting stronger as the year has gone on. Still fresh, the nation’s No. 1 defense has allowed 14 points or fewer in each of the last six games, and in every game but two. The machine keeps on rolling.
Just like last season, Florida comes into the SEC Championship vs. Alabama with no offense, and a defense that’s finding ways to keep the team alive. These Gators are dealing with a devastating array of injuries, but they were still able to finish the regular season sixth in total defense and fifth in scoring D.
What’s Going To Happen: Florida went 0-for-Florida State on third down conversion tries. It’s not going to have any better luck against the Crimson Tide D. The game won’t get out of hand, but Alabama will be in control throughout.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Florida 9
– The full SEC Championship breakdown and preview
Sun Belt Final Weekend
Why This Matters: The league has made itself interesting in the final weekend with five big games to help shape the final standings.
What You Need To Know: Appalachian State is done at 7-1 in the conference, but Troy can tie for the Sun Belt title with a win over Georgia Southern. Arkansas State can make it a three-way tie with a win over Texas State and a Troy win. If the Red Wolves lose and Troy wins, technically, based on a head-to-head win over Appalachian State, the Trojans would be the true Sun Belt champ.
What’s Going To Happen: Both Troy and Arkansas State will win, and the Sun Belt will finish with a three-way tie.
– The full Sun Belt final weekend breakdown and previews