League crowns and playoff at stake
SEC game features CFP title rematch
Conference championship weekend has arrived in Week 14 of the college football season, providing the final data points for the College Football Playoff committee to consider before choosing the four semifinalists, as well as the rest of the New Year’s Six bowl participants.
Here are the five conference championship games that will determine how the playoff race concludes and a breakdown of each of the matchups that will be critical to the success for both teams.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia
Southeastern Conference, in Atlanta: Last season’s national championship game finalists have been on a collision course throughout the fall. This can be considered a de facto quarterfinal game, with the winner certain to be among the chosen quartet. Alabama could conceivably still be included with a 12-1 mark should the Crimson Tide come up short against the Bulldogs, but they are in no mood to test that theory.
Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa was introduced to the world in the second half of that title contest with the Bulldogs. Though he made a few mistakes, such as the ill-advised sack he took one play before hitting the winning TD pass, he certainly showed flashes of what the offense would become as this season’s regular starter. Tagovailoa’s top five receivers all have at least 498 yards and a minimum of five TD catches. The Bulldogs’ secondary featuring CB Deandre Baker is excellent, but Alabama can run the ball a bit, too, to the tune of over 205 yards per game. But the Bulldogs boast the SEC’s most potent ground attack, averaging a shade under 260 yards. Georgia QB Jake Fromm will have to do enough through the air to give outstanding RBs D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield room to operate.
No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Texas
Big 12, in Arlington, Texas: Fans can’t feel too bad about getting to see a rematch of the classic Red River showdown these archrivals staged in October that forever etched freshman Longhorns K Cameron Dicker (AKA Dicker the Kicker) into the history books.
Sooners QB Kyler Murray looks to make a strong closing argument for Heisman Trophy voters as well as avenge the team’s lone loss. Murray and big-play WR Marquise Brown will likely need to put up big numbers to compensate for OU’s deficiencies on the defensive side. Texas QB Sam Ehlinger has been playing through a shoulder sprain that might limit his downfield range, but he has shifty weapons such as WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey who can turn short throws into big gainers. The Longhorns might be better served by feeding RBs Tre Watson and Keaontay Ingram to control the clock.
No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 21 Northwestern
Big Ten, in Indianapolis: The Buckeyes picked a good time to author their most complete performance of the season in dismantling archrival Michigan, clinching the Big Ten East Division and putting themselves back in the playoff mix. Northwestern won its last seven conference games to claim the West Division and earn this shot at the title.
So the burning question is, which OSU team will show up? The defense that nearly let Maryland beat it two weeks ago looked like a different group altogether against the Wolverines, with DE Dre’Mont Jones and LB Tuf Borland controlling the neutral zone. Gritty Wildcats QB Clayton Thorson rarely gives up on a play and could make OSU pay for failing to maintain gap integrity, but his group isn’t suited to comeback mode. Buckeyes QB Dwayne Haskins, already with 42 TD passes for the season, should have another big night if he continues to take care of the ball.
No. 2 Clemson vs. Pittsburgh
Atlantic Coast, in Charlotte, North Carolina: 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 finale. There is speculation that a loss wouldn’t necessarily eliminate Clemson from the playoff mix, but the Tigers would be advised not to take that chance given the ACC’s relative lack of depth.
During the Panthers’ four-game conference winning streak that allowed them to seal the division, RBs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall were running wild, enabling QB Kenny Pickett to make easy throws. The whole unit ground to a
Georgia, led by quarterback Jake Fromm, will try to upset Alabama in the SEC title game to earn a playoff berth.
Clemson and wide receiver Amari Rodgers shook off South Carolina last week and will face Pittsburgh for the ACC title.