Driv­ing for col­lege con­fer­ence ti­tles

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Ed­die Ti­manus

Travis Eti­enne and Clem­son can punch their Play­off ticket with a win over Pitts­burgh in the ACC ti­tle game.

Pre­view­ing the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship games:

Pac-12 Cham­pi­onship in Santa Clara, Calif.

No. 11 Wash­ing­ton vs. No. 17 Utah

Nov. 30, 8 p.m. ET, Fox Danny Sheridan’s line: Wash­ing­ton by 5

Since its cham­pion is guar­an­teed to have three losses, the league is officially out of the play­off dis­cus­sion. Even so, a trip to the Rose Bowl will pro­vide plenty of in­cen­tive. The Utes are rep­re­sent­ing the South Di­vi­sion for the first time in the ti­tle game since join­ing the con­fer­ence. The Huskies were ex­pected to be back here, though their path took un­ex­pected de­tours.

Utah made it de­spite los­ing both start­ing QB Tyler Hunt­ley and RB Zack Moss to sea­so­nend­ing in­juries. The Utes flashed that re­silience in their last reg­u­lar-sea­son game, over­com­ing a 20-point deficit to top BYU. The Utah backfield is now in the hands of QB Ja­son Shel­ley and RB Ar­mand Shyne, but they’ll be up against the Pac-12’s stingi­est de­fense. Huskies vet­eran RB Myles Gaskin has been a work­horse of late. His three TDs pow­ered Wash­ing­ton to vic­tory in a snowy Ap­ple Cup show­down with Wash­ing­ton State. He’s sure to face a loaded box this week, so QB Jake Brown­ing might have to take some shots downfield.

Pre­dic­tion: The Utes are scrappy and will never be out of the game. But the deeper, more tal­ented Huskies will pre­vail and make plans for Pasadena. Wash­ing­ton, 27-20

Big 12 Cham­pi­onship in Ar­ling­ton, Texas

No. 5 Ok­la­homa vs. No. 9 Texas

Dec. 1, noon ET, ABC Danny Sheridan’s line: Ok­la­homa by 71⁄2

Soon­ers QB Kyler Mur­ray, a dual threat, looks to make a strong clos­ing ar­gu­ment for Heis­man Tro­phy vot­ers, in ad­di­tion to aveng­ing the team’s lone loss. He likely will need to put up big num­bers to com­pen­sate for Ok­la­homa’s de­fen­sive deficien­cies, es­pe­cially in the sec­ondary. Texas QB Sam Eh­linger has been play­ing through a shoul­der sprain that might limit his downfield range, but he has shifty tar­gets like WR Lil’Jor­dan Humphrey who can turn short throws into big gain­ers.

Pre­dic­tion: The Soon­ers were in come­back mode the first time around against Texas. This time they won’t dig them­selves a hole with those early mis­takes. Look for Ok­la­homa to re­verse the re­sult in an­other high­scor­ing affair. Ok­la­homa, 45-31

AAC Cham­pi­onship

Mem­phis at No. 7 Cen­tral Flor­ida

Dec. 1, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Danny Sheridan’s line: Cen­tral Flor­ida by 5

Cen­tral Flor­ida kept its quest for a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive un­de­feated cam­paign in­tact but lost QB McKen­zie Mil­ton to a hor­rific leg in­jury. If the Knights can get past the Tigers in a re­match of last year’s Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence ti­tle game, they are guar­an­teed at least an­other ma­jor bowl berth. Mem­phis has over­come a slow start and would love to cap off the sea­son with a con­fer­ence crown.

The UCF de­fense has shown much im­prove­ment in its last two games, lim­it­ing Cincin­nati and South Flor­ida to 23 points to­tal. That unit must be at its best to slow the Tigers’ one-two RB punch of Dar­rell Hen­der­son and Patrick Tay­lor Jr. Knights QB Dar­riel Mack has some game ex­pe­ri­ence, but it’s ask­ing too much to ex­pect the team to ap­proach its sea­son av­er­age of 43.1 points with­out Mil­ton.

Pre­dic­tion: It won’t be last year’s 62-55 dou­ble-OT thriller, but it should again be close through­out with both teams re­ly­ing heav­ily on the ground game. UCF, 34-28

SEC Cham­pi­onship in At­lanta

No. 1 Al­abama vs. No. 4 Ge­or­gia Satur­day, 4 p.m. ET, CBS Danny Sheridan’s line: Al­abama by 131⁄2

Last sea­son’s Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off final­ists have been on a col­li­sion course. Tide QB Tua Tago­v­ailoa was in­tro­duced to the world in the sec­ond half of that ti­tle game and showed flashes of what the offense would be­come with him as this sea­son’s reg­u­lar starter. He’s faced stronger pass rushes over the last month, but Ge­or­gia’s front line has strug­gled to mount pres­sure. The Bull­dogs boast the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence’s most po­tent ground at­tack, av­er­ag­ing a shade un­der 260 yards per game. Al­abama is well equipped to stop a one-di­men­sional game plan, how­ever, so QB Jake Fromm will have to do enough through the air to give his out­stand­ing run­ning backs room.

Pre­dic­tion: Ge­or­gia fans have to hope that the lone loss at LSU wasn’t a pre­cur­sor, but that might just be the re­al­ity if the offense bogs down. The Bull­dogs sec­ondary isn’t bad, but it

can’t keep Tago­v­ailoa & Co. down for an en­tire game. The Tide will roll on to yet an­other play­off ap­pear­ance. Al­abama, 35-17

Moun­tain West Cham­pi­onship

No. 23 Fresno State at No. 20 Boise State Dec. 1, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN Danny Sheridan’s line: Boise State by 21⁄2

The win­ner here could be in a po­si­tion for a New Year’s Six bowl should Cen­tral Flor­ida come up short in the AAC finale. These pro­grams are get­ting to be fa­mil­iar foes. Be­sides last year’s en­counter for the cham­pi­onship, the Bron­cos also handed the Bull­dogs their only league loss this sea­son, 24-17, three weeks ago. This one figures to be close as well with both squads helmed by vet­eran QBs who don’t make many mis­takes. The Bull­dogs’ Mar­cus McMaryion has 24 TD throws with just three picks, while BSU se­nior Brett Ryp­ien has a ra­tio of 29 TDs to seven INTs. BSU gets plenty of ground sup­port from RB Alexan­der Mat­ti­son, while the Bull­dogs make am­ple use of the sopho­more backfield duo of Ron­nie Rivers and Jor­dan Mims.

Pre­dic­tion: This sta­dium has been the source of much frus­tra­tion for Bull­dogs fans. This might be the one in which FSU gets over the hump, but it’s hard to pick against the Bron­cos at home. Boise State, 30-24

ACC Cham­pi­onship in Char­lotte, N.C.

No. 2 Clem­son vs. Pitts­burgh

Dec. 1, 8 p.m. ET, ABC Danny Sheridan’s line: Clem­son by 25

The Tigers face their last ob­sta­cle in their bid for yet an­other play­off in­vi­ta­tion, and it looks a lot less for­mi­da­ble as the Coastal Di­vi­sion cham­pion Pan­thers were throt­tled at Mi­ami in their reg­u­lar-sea­son finale. Pitt must re­group quickly.

Dur­ing the Pan­thers’ fourgame con­fer­ence win­ning streak that al­lowed them to seal the Coastal Di­vi­sion, RBs Qadree Ol­li­son and Dar­rin Hall were run­ning wild, al­low­ing QB Kenny Pick­ett to make easy throws. The whole unit ground to a halt last week, which doesn’t bode well against the Tigers’ for­mi­da­ble de­fen­sive front. Clem­son gave up more points than it would have liked against South Carolina and will be out to prove it­self play­off ready. QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Eti­enne can pro­duce an ex­plo­sive play at any time.

Pre­dic­tion: Pitt won a shootout with Syra­cuse ear­lier in the sea­son, but the Pan­thers won’t have the fire­power to keep pace if the Tigers put up a big score. Clem­son figures to do just that and be off to the play­off. Clem­son, 45-20 Big Ten Cham­pi­onship in In­di­anapo­lis No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 21 North­west­ern Dec. 1, 8 p.m. ET, Fox Danny Sheridan’s line: Ohio State by 14

The Buck­eyes picked a good time to au­thor their most com­plete per­for­mance of the sea­son in last week’s dis­man­tling of archri­val Michi­gan, clinch­ing the East Di­vi­sion and putting them­selves in the play­off mix. But any re­gres­sion to the in­con­sis­tency they’ve shown at times could spell trou­ble against the Wild­cats, who won their last seven con­fer­ence games.

Which OSU team will show up? The de­fense that nearly let Mary­land beat it two weeks ago looked like a differ­ent group against the Wolver­ines. North­west­ern’s run­ning game has been in­con­sis­tent at best, but gritty QB Clay­ton Thor­son rarely gives up on a play. But Buck­eyes QB Dwayne Hask­ins, who has 42 TD passes this sea­son, should have an­other big night.

Pre­dic­tion: The Wild­cats tend to play up or down to their com­pe­ti­tion. They lost to Akron and barely got out with a win at hap­less Rut­gers but hung tough with Notre Dame and shut down Iowa and Wis­con­sin. They’ll prob­a­bly make Buck­eyes fans ner­vous for a stretch, but OSU has too many weapons. Then the play­off de­bates will com­mence. Ohio State, 33-24

BEN QUEEN/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Quar­ter­back Kyler Mur­ray (1) ac­counted for four touch­downs, in­clud­ing one on a run, to help Ok­la­homa erase four West Vir­ginia leads and de­feat the Moun­taineers to earn a berth in the Big 12 cham­pi­onship game.

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