It's finally here. The most exciting time in college football. Conference Championship week. Teams will have their last opportunity to impress the college football playoff committee and prove they're worthy of being one of the four teams. With three spots likely already secured, that means there will be a dog fight for the final spot. Will Georgia beat LSU at the Georgia Dome and put themselves in prime position for the last spot? Or will a team like Utah or Oklahoma, both who had a tough regular-season loss to unranked teams, do enough to secure one of the four spots. It will surely be a fun weekend, so let's go ahead and preview it and make some picks.
PAC 12 Championship: Oregon vs. Utah
Oregon had a disappointing start to the season, losing a game they should've won against a quality team in Auburn. Then they got extremely hot, rattling off nine straight wins and looking like a legitimate CFP contender. Then Arizona State happened. The Ducks went into Tuscon and simply got outplayed by Herm Edwards and his young freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels. That ruined any possible chance at making the playoff. Oregon will be looking to play spoiler against the Utes, and knock them out of playoff contention.
I'm going to take a paragraph to talk about how much I dislike Justin Herbert. He's terrible. I'm sorry, I had to say it. Shout out to my boy Kyle Zyck for the Blaine Gabbert comp. That's who he is. Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert put up great numbers in college. Sucked in the NFL. Justin Herbert put up pretty good numbers in college. Probably will suck in the NFL. If you need a quarterback, please do not take this guy. I'm warning you.
Alright, Ice let's get back on track here.
Utah was a popular pick by many to reach the college football playoff. They have a lot of good qualities that you usually see out of a championship-caliber team. Great defense, which happened to be third in scoring defense just behind Clemson and Georgia. They also run the shit out of the ball, led by talented senior running back Zack Moss. Utah's only blemish this year was a seven-point loss at USC, where Moss was missing.
The key for Utah is quarterback Tyler Huntley. He was extremely efficient this year and needs to do the same if Utah hopes to win against Oregon and potentially play in the playoff. If he can make just a few quality throws a game, while being able to limit his turnovers, this makes Utah extremely dangerous and a team that can give a major challenge to one of the blue blood programs.
I don't think Oregon is motivated for this game at all. They're not really playing for anything, which honestly could play in their favor, but ultimately, I think Utah's stifling defense, along with their strong ground game will end up being the difference in a low-scoring battle. Utah Wins and covers. Hammer the under.
Prediction: Utah 23 Oregon 14
BIG 12 Championship: Baylor vs. Oklahoma
Baylor came out of nowhere this year and was one good half of football away from going 12-0. Instead, they went 11-1 and are looking to get revenge on the only team that beat them this year. Baylor's strong on both sides of the ball. On offense, they're led by Charlie Brewer at quarterback, who's likely to go on day two or three of the NFL draft. He's an accurate passer and also has the ability to use his legs. They should be able to put up points fairly easily against an Oklahoma defense that has struggled all year.
The key for Baylor though is their defense. They have quality at all three levels. First, the pass rush, led by James Lynch, who led the Big 12 in sacks this year with 10.5. In the middle, Terrell Bernard led the team in tackles with 95 and provides a solid force in the middle. In the secondary, Grayland Arnold was aggressive and opportunistic which led him to snatch six interceptions. These guys are going to have to play their best games of the season to have a chance of winning.
Oklahoma gonna Oklahoma. We know what they do. Their offense is unreal. Heisman candidate and future Chicago Bears quarterback Jalen Hurts played fantastic under offensive genius Lincoln Riley, accumulating a total of 50 touchdowns. He also has the luxury of having Cee Dee Lamb, one of the best receivers in college football. This offense is going to put up points, there's no doubt, they just need a little help on defense.
This brings me to the key to the game. Defense defense defense. To be fair, Oklahoma's defense has looked better recently, holding an explosive Oklahoma State team to under 20 points. Kenneth Murray, a likely day one or day two pick, is going to have to carry the defense from his linebacker position. Expect him to be all over the field, making a big impact.
Oklahoma and Baylor played a thriller in their regular-season matchup. Baylor went up 28-3, but Oklahoma stormed all the way back and eventually won the game. They didn't have Cee Dee Lamb in that game. They have him in this contest though and I think he shows out and goes for over 150 yards and two touchdowns. I have Oklahoma winning this one pretty handily.
Prediction: Oklahoma 37 Baylor 21
American Athletic Conference Championship: Cincinnati vs. Memphis
Cincinnati is going to be a program to watch for the next couple of years. They have a very talented, young roster, led by a quality defense and an offense that has shown flashes. Their only two losses are to number one Ohio State and the same Memphis team they play this week.
For the Bearcats to have a chance, they need to dominate on the ground. They have two guys who can do it very well. First Gerrid Doaks. The junior was great in limited action, averaging over five yards per carry on 90 attempts. Then there's the workhorse Michael Warren, who rand for over 1000 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. If they're able to establish the ground game with these two, that will bode well for the Cats.
Memphis. EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE. That's a pretty common theme for those representing their respective conferences in the championship. Arizona State transfer Brady White had a 3300 yard 32 touchdown year for the Tigers. However, the story of this team was dynamite freshman running back Kenny Gainwell. He ran for almost 1400 yards and 12 touchdowns and added almost 500 yards receiving to his totals as well.
Big implications in this game. The winner goes to a new years six bowl game. These teams played last week, with Memphis coming out on top 34-24. As much as I'd like to go with the Bearcats here, I don't have the balls to. I think Memphis's offense is too much for Cincinnatti.
Prediction: Memphis 38 Cincinnati 24
SEC Championship: Georgia vs. LSU
What a year for the LSU Tigers. Four wins against top 15 teams. Potent offensive unit. Star-studded secondary. There's a lot to like about this team and it starts with likely Heisman trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow. Auburn to eventually win the SEC East. Georgia's defense is spectacular, ranking near the top in almost every category. Georgia's offense, on the other hand, sucks. That's the nicest way to put it. They have a quality running game, led by D'Andre Swift, but that's about it.
Jake Fromm has been inconsistent this season. Every time I look, his completion percentage is under 50%. He NEEDS to play well if Georgia has any chance of beating the Tigers. That's going to be even more difficult with top target Lawrence Cager done for the season, as well as freshman George Pickens being suspended for the first half. Look for Georgia to focus on the ground game and short passing game against an LSU defense that has been hit or miss all year.
What a year for the LSU Tigers. Four wins against top 15 teams. Potent offensive unit. There's a lot to like about this team and it starts with likely Heisman trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow, who's also the front runner to go number one overall in the draft, had arguably one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback of all time. He completed nearly 80% of his passes. 80. That's insane. He also broke the SEC record for passing yards and finished with 44 touchdowns to just six picks.
It's not all Burrow though. At his disposal, he has one of the most talented receiver groups in the country. JeMarr Chase and Justin Jefferson both went over 1,000 yards and Terrace Marshall when healthy is a big play waiting to happen. The Tigers also got huge contributions from Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who rushed for over 1000 yards and added 16 touchdowns.
Georgia's defense is phenomenal, but I don't think their offense can score enough to keep them in this game. I think they can limit Joe Burrow, but they won't limit him enough, as the fighting Coach O's make it to their first college football playoff.
Can we talk about that picture of Joe Burrow real quick? That's one of the greatest photos ever taken. Love the jersey, love him throwin' up the double L's and I wish Joe Burrow would slip to the Bears in the second round.
Prediction: LSU 28 Georgia 13
BIG 10 Championship: Wisconsin vs. Ohio State
Wisconsin started off hot. They got up all the way to number five in the rankings but had an absolute clunker against unranked Illinois. Then they traveled to Ohio State the following weekend and got blasted. Despite that, Wisconsin finished the season strong and didn't lose a single game. That included last weekend at Minnesota, where they silenced all the doubters and took down the Golden Gophers and ended their dream season.
Wisconsin's identity is similar to Georgia and Utah. Run the damn ball and play damn good defense. Jonathan Taylor is arguably the best back in the country and will be heavily used on Saturday night. Jack Coan played his best game against Minnesota and will need to play a near-perfect game against Ohio State to pull off the upset. All I have to say to the Badgers is good luck.
Let's face it. Ohio State shit pumped anyone in their way this year. The only blemish was a closer than expected game against Penn State, but they were still able to win that by double digits. The Buckeyes really don't have a weakness. Great quarterback, great running game, playmakers on the outside, tough in the trenches and a defense that's going to send multiple players to the NFL.
The only weakness I could find (and this is really knit-picking) is their linebackers covering running backs and tight ends. The Badgers have Taylor at RB and Jake Ferguson at tight end and they could look to exploit the Buckeyes linebackers in coverage.
With that being said, I think Ohio State is the best team in the country and they'll win this game with relative ease and secure the number one seed in the college football playoff.
Prediction: Ohio State 42 Wisconsin 17
ACC Championship game: Virginia vs. Clemson
Virginia is the feel-good story this year. They were the seventh different team in the last seven years to win the ACC Coastal. Virginia did it in unbelievable fashion, taking down the Virginia Tech Hokies 39-30 at home. Watching the entire crowd storm the field is something that I'll remember for a long time.
The Cavaliers have a dynamic quarterback in Bryce Perkins who can effectively pass and run the ball. His accuracy is shaky at times and he has to be near perfect for them to have any chance at winning. They're also going to need a lot of bounces to go their way.
Clemson started off cold and even had a scare against the Mack Brown led North Carolina Tar Heels. That was the wake-up call that the Tigers needed. They proceeded to run rough shot through the rest of the ACC and look poised to make the college football playoff once again. Clemson possesses the number one scoring defense in the NCAA and has an explosive offense filled with playmakers.
Clemson wins. By a lot. That is all.
Prediction: Clemson 49 Virginia 6