It’s conference championship week and for football fans, there’s a handful of great games on the schedule. When you hear the word “championship”, it conjures up visions of greatness, heroes fighting for every last inch to lead their teams to glory. The reality is, in conference championships especially, there’s usually a good number of instances where the game is a mere formality. The mere nature of conferences and parity in college football leads to some lopsided victories and occasional upsets, but a lot of boring games. This year, outside of the ACC, that’s probably not true. There’s everything and more at stake for the Big 10 and SEC championship winners, but from coast to coast there’s a very good weekend of college football with some very enticing match ups. Now, let’s take a peek into each conference and get a better idea of what we’re in for:
ACC: Duke Blue Devils vs. Florida State Seminoles (-28)
Yes, Duke is a 28 point underdog and an upset would likely be the most historic ever in a BCS qualifier championship game. In fact, it’d be one of the most epic upsets in college football history, period, given Florida State’s impressive play this year and virtual cakewalk into the national title game after destroying Clemson. But, let’s give Duke some credit. It’s not easy to win football games at Duke. This year, the Blue Devils won 10. Weak conference or not, this has been a great season for the Blue Devils and their fans should be ecstatic about what coach David Cutcliffe has done in Chapel Hill, especially in contrast to their arch rivals down the road who annually underperform given their talent. As for Florida State, well, by now, enough has been said. The ‘Noles are a 28 point favorite, mostly due to the play of Heisman frontrunner Jameis Winston. But, unlike, say, Texas A&M, Florida State is no one trick pony. Florida is fast and athletic on both sides of the ball and matches up well with literally anyone in the country. They’ll likely steamroll Duke and even if FSU has an off day, they should win rather handily. What’s important for the Noles? Well, a loss puts them well out of the national title, for starters. More realistically, staying healthy and fine tuning their personnel on both sides of the ball in their last real game experience until January should be top priorities.
What to watch for: The number of empty seats in the stadium. I could go on about the obvious allure of Jameis Winston getting to feast on inferior competition one more time to pad his Heisman resume, but the ACC has had a rough history of title games recently. Virginia Tech has dominated the Coastal Division and Florida State and Clemson have taken turns representing the Atlantic. This year, Duke is making their first ever appearance in the game, close to home in Charlotte. Unfortunately, Duke is not a “football school”. The game will likely be a dud, and fan interest will likely be waning.
Prediction: Duke – 13 Florida State – 42, there’s not much to add here. Duke should be happy about their season and their bowl appearance and Florida State should fire on all cylinders to stay in good shape for January.
Big 10: Ohio State Buckeyes (-5) vs. Michigan State Spartans
Perhaps the most important championship game of the day, alongside the SEC Championship Game, both of which are very dependent on each other. Ohio State has not lost a single game since 2011. They’ve trotted through the Big 10 this year and thanks to Alabama’s defeat last week, sit in prime position to play for the national title against Florida State. There’s been a lot to talk about Ohio State this year. Some of it revolving around their winning streak, but lately, most if it is in regards to their schedule. The Big 10 hasn’t exactly impressed across the board this year and to date, Ohio State’s best win is against Wisconsin. Outside of the Badgers, Ohio State hasn’t had to play a very tough schedule and has looked wounded or on their heels numerous times, as recently as last week. Michigan State is a good team. They’re going to be the best team Ohio State has faced all season. And the Buckeyes will get them after hearing for an entire week on how bad their schedule is, how poorly they’ve looked throughout the season and how a good chunk of the media and fans believe a one loss SEC team has more right to be playing for a title than them. Urban Meyer, in the most Urban Meyer of moves, has stated he won’t suspend two of his players ejected last week in the rivalry matchup in Ann Arbor. Ohio State will be laying it all on the line and will need all hands on deck.
What to watch for: Michigan State has perhaps the best defense in the nation. Ohio State has one of the most dynamic offenses in the nation. Led by Heisman darkhorse Braxton Miller and a tremendous rushing attack, the Buckeyes are very balanced on offense. It’s a match made in heaven. The key will be, can the Spartans stay consistent on offense? Ohio State has shown some real vulnerability on the defensive side of the ball against very average competition. If Michigan State’s defense comes to play and can make things happen on offense, watch out.
Prediction: Ohio State – 28 Michigan State – 24: Michigan State should win this game, but you could say the same thing about Wisconsin and Michigan. I fully expect Ohio State to be outplayed for the majority of the game but still find a way to win.
MAC: Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois (-3)
Northern Illinois is likely heading to a BCS bowl this year. They’re a mere three point favorite against Bowling Green, but if I were a betting man, I’d take the Huskies and the points easily. When you’re dealing with conferences outside of the automatic qualifiers, there’s always a fair chance for an upset. Just ask Fresno State, who was lit up by San Jose State, giving breathing room to Northern Illinois and Central Florida in the bowl selection process.
What to watch for: This game serves two important purposes, one, to put a stamp on NIU’s bid for the Fiesta Bowl and two, to strengthen the case for superstar quarterback Jordan Lynch to get an invite to New York for Heisman festivities. It’s a longshot that the Heisman goes to someone from a MAC school, but you can’t look over Lynch’s numbers. He has a respectable 22 TD passes with a mere five INTs, but this tells only part of the story. While Lynch has led his Huskies undefeated hurling the rock through the air, he’s ran roughshod over defenses in a manner that would make Robert Griffin III’s head spin. Lynch has ran for 300, yes, 300, yards TWICE this year. That’s insane, even if you are playing Western Michigan. Against a pretty good (10-2) Ball State team, he threw for 350 yards in the air and two TDs, while running for 123 and two TDs. That’s hard to do in a videogame, much less against FBS competition. Jordan Lynch gets another chance to wow voters and given Manziel’s fall as of late, there’s a really good chance he seals the deal this week and gets an invite to New York.
Prediction: Bowling Green – 23 Northern Illinois – 48: The match-up doesn’t sound appealing, but will be worth watching for Jordan Lynch. Plus, they get the benefit of playing on Friday so it won’t compete with more marquee names. If you get the chance, watch.
Mountain West: Utah State vs. Fresno State (-3)
Fresno State gets the points for being at home against Utah State. Last weekend, Fresno State likely dropped out of BCS bowl contention with a loss to San Jose State. The Bulldogs had been quite impressive this season, but given their schedule, the loss couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Bulldogs are currently ranked #24 in the country, well outside striking distance of Central Florida and Northern Illinois. This game is all about Fresno’s dominance at home. The line likely means sharps are unsure of what to make of Fresno State after their loss and Utah State is a respectable opponent. However, Fresno State has won twelve straight games at home and Utah State hasn’t won there in over 20 years.
What to watch for: Fresno State has the nation’s fourth best scoring offense in the nation. Even in their sole loss, the Bulldogs put up 52 points.
Prediction: Fresno State – 55 Utah State – 28: Utah State is solid for a MWC team. The loss of Chuckie Keeton puts them at a disadvantage to the Bulldogs who will go in guns blazing.
Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (-3)
Stanford is likely one of the nation’s most talented football teams when things are clicking. They dropped an inexcusable game to Utah, were the first to topple Oregon and then blew their momentum by losing to USC. Stanford could have been in the discussion for a national championship, but they’ll have to settle for a Rose Bowl spot, should they beat Arizona State this Saturday. Arizona State gets to host Stanford at home, where the Sun Devils haven’t lost all year. Stanford already beat ASU comfortably in September, but the Devils are playing great football, while there’s lots up in the air about Stanford. Stanford is the better team, for sure, but momentum, a spot in the Rose Bowl and being at home could be enough for Arizona State to take care of business.
What to watch for: What Stanford team shows up? If Stanford plays their A game, they will likely control the game throughout. If they come off to a sluggish start or look past the Sun Devils, ASU is too good of a team to not capitalize.
Prediction: Stanford – 33 Arizona State – 30: Arizona State would be a great story in the Rose Bowl, but Stanford is the better team and has lost too many times this year to let it happen again. Look for ASU to play The Cardinal close throughout.
SEC: Missouri Tigers vs. Auburn Tigers (-2)
The most improbable of all title games, both Missouri and Auburn are playing for an outside shot at the national championship. There will be much effort from the athletic directors and SEC president Mike Slive this week to polish the case for both Mizzou and Auburn taking on Florida State in January, but the game itself could be one of the best of the weekend. Both Mizzou and Auburn are bringing dynamic offenses to the Georgia Dome. Auburn, riding off of the read option and star quarterback Nick Marshall and Mizzou, with a slew of lengthy WRs both pack significant firepower. No matter the outcome, both schools should feel jubilant over this season, as both Auburn and Mizzou missed bowl games last year and went a combined 2-12 in the SEC in 2012. Should Auburn win, there’s a strong chance they jump Ohio State and find their way into the national title picture. Should Mizzou win, there’s a shot they jump Ohio State, but the Tigers will likely secure a Sugar Bowl bid against UCF. If Ohio State loses, the winner of this game is in the national title game.
What to watch for: Mizzou is bringing perhaps the most athletic defensive line in the nation to Atlanta to try and stifle Auburn’s read option, an offense that’s given coordinators nightmares all season. Auburn, who ranks 105th in the nation against the pass, will have to play at their absolute best to compete with the tall and athletic Mizzou WR corps.
Prediction: Mizzou – 31 Auburn – 24: This game could go either way. The game will be a virtual home game for Auburn, but new coach Guz Malzahn will bring his squad into the Georgia Dome after a week of hearing about their national title hopes. Auburn will need its A game to beat Mizzou and there is zero room for distraction. In the end, this may be the end of Auburn’s luck.