League crowns and play­off at stake

SEC game fea­tures CFP ti­tle re­match

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - Ed­die Ti­manus

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.

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