College football picks, odds: Ranking conference title games by upset potential
The playoff picture will get a lot messier before Selection Sunday if things don't go according to plan
It's hard to beat the same team twice.
Actually, let me be more specific. It's hard to beat the same team twice when both sides are really good and a conference championship is on the line. Lo and behold, seven of the nine conference championships on the line this weekend are rematches, including three of the Power 5 conference titles.
The Clemson, Oklahoma and Wisconsin win, those are three of your four teams right there and the SEC champ is getting in no matter what. However, as we know with rematches, going chalk doesn't always pan out. What makes Week 14 so fascinating is that come Selection Sunday, the committee might only need to fill in the blanks.are actually straight-forward and for a reason. If
Or, it might have a lot to think about. A lot.
Each week, I normally give you the top five upset alert games based on matchups, injuries/suspensions and other factors. I also like to challenge myself by choosing games in which the line is at least a touchdown. But since there are only 16 games this weekend -- and only a half-dozen of any real importance -- I'm instead going to rank the upset potential in each power conference championship game plus the AAC conference championship, which will determine the Group of Five representative in the Peach Bowl.
6. ACC Championship: No. 7 Miami vs. No. 1 Clemson
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Charlotte, North Carolina | Opening line: Clemson -6.5
Why it's listed here: Normally, I'd say Miami got its bad game out of the way against Pitt, and hey, Clemson knows what that's like. But what I'm more concerned about is that Miami may have already had its best game against Notre Dame. The rest has been a lot of living on the edge. Hurricanes quarterback Malik Rosier has struggled mightily in November. He was benched briefly last week, threw five combined interceptions between Virginia and Virginia Tech and was a non-factor throwing the ball against the Irish. Unless his benching brings about a new Malik Rosier, Clemson's defense might be too much to handle. Plus, the Canes are .
Miami wins if: The offense can avoid a slow start. The Canes have trailed three times at the half and have only led by a touchdown or less two other times. Other than the two-game stretch against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, Miami hasn't really started that hot. I like this team's defense because of the turnovers they force, but not enough to win the game by itself.
Clemson wins if: It gets to Rosier. The Tigers' defensive line grades out as the best collective unit in all of college football in getting sacks. Clemson as a whole is tied for third nationally with 40 sacks. I'm wary enough of Miami's quarterback situation without going up against that type of pass rush.
When: Saturday, noon ET | Where: Orlando, Florida | Opening line: UCF -7.5
Why it's listed here: Like points? Good, UCF and Memphis are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in points per game. I can't imagine this game ends up like the one earlier this season when UCF beat Memphis 40-13. Real talk: that was among the more impressive beat downs given Memphis' offensive potency. The Tigers will be out for blood and they're playing at a high level, but do they have the defense to get a stop?
Memphis wins if: It can do a better job of not giving up the big play. UCF certainly drove the field on the Tigers the last time they met, but the defense also gave up a lot of quick scores. Keeping everything in front can tire out a defense over time if UCF runs enough plays, but it also creates more opportunities to put the Knights in third downs and create mistakes.
UCF wins if: Shaquem Griffin picks up where he left off against South Florida. The linebacker had his best overall game against the Bulls in Week 13 (9 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 QB hurries, 1 PBU). He'll need to keep that going against the best offense UCF's defense has faced all season. He'll need to be a presence in the backfield as well as in the open field. If he's the game changer, UCF wins.
4.Big 12 Championship: No. 11 TCU vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET | Where: Arlington, Texas | Opening line: Oklahoma -6.5
Why it's listed here: History says the higher-seeded team once went 4-4 in the old Big 12 Championship Game from its inaugural matchup in 1996 to Kansas State's stunning 35-7 win over No. 1 Oklahoma in 2003. History also says higher-seeded Big 12 teams went 6-1 since then (and the other time was Oklahoma beating No. 1 Missouri in 2007 when the Tigers weren't really the No. 1 team in the nation). What this all comes back to is the new Big 12 title game is for Oklahoma to get into the playoff, but its return is not necessarily a bad omen. It may be tough to beat TCU again, but no one has had an answer for Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield -- not yet, anyway.
TCU wins if: I mean, it has to at least slow Mayfield to have a chance, right? TCU's one of the best defenses in the country at getting sacks but had just one against the Sooners the last time they met. The Big 12's best pass defense also gave up a season-worst 12.3 yards per pass attempt in that game, too.
Oklahoma wins if: We know Mayfield is going to do his thing, so the key here is stopping TCU's run game. No team in the Big 12 runs the ball more than the Frogs and the Sooners are susceptible defensively to ground-and-pound attacks. Don't be surprised if TCU takes a cue from West Virginia's game plan with some Wildcat formations.
When: Friday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Santa Clara, California | Opening line: USC -3.5
Why it's listed here: Stanford is a better team than when it lost to USC 42-24 in Week 2. The full-time switch to quarterback K.J. Costello has helped the passing game balance what running back Bryce Loves brings to the offense. Though Love has been battling an ankle injury for basically the entire second half of the season, he remains productive. Getting USC off its first bye week of the season will be interesting, but the Cardinal are on a run, having won eight of their last nine.
Stanford wins if: It can do a better job containing USC's running game. That part of the Trojans offense has been hit-or-miss, but when it's on, there just aren't many better than Ronald Jones II. And it was on against Stanford in September. The 307 yards USC put up on the ground was the most allowed by the Cardinal all season. Quietly, Stanford's run defense has been average and USC's offense just runs smoother when Jones is doing work.
USC wins if: Its red zone defense stays true to itself. The Trojans rank first in the Pac-12 in red zone touchdown percentage. The thing is, Stanford has Love (five red zone scores) and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (six red zone scores). This will be the fascinating matchup that will determine the outcome of the game.
2. Big Ten Championship: No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Wisconsin
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Indianapolis, Indiana | Opening line: Ohio State -6.5
Why it's listed here: In all the talk about whether a two-loss Ohio State would make the playoff over Alabama, I feel we lose sight of the fact there's an undefeated team in the Big Ten. No, Wisconsin's schedule hasn't been the most difficult. No, Wisconsin is not the flashiest team. That doesn't mean the Badgers are bad, nor does it mean they don't have speed. Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor ranks third nationally with 1,806 yards and the defense tops the S&P+ rankings.
Wisconsin wins if: Quarterback Alex Hornibrook gets on a roll. I know it's crazy to put Wisconsin's playoff hopes on its quarterback of all things, but Hornibook's good has actually been really good when he's the complementary piece. The stats don't show it -- before last week's win against Minnesota, he threw an interception in nine straight games -- but he'll occasionally thread some needles you didn't know he could. If he delivers a handful of throws like that on Saturday, the Badgers have a real shot. Keep an eye on his chemistry with Badgers tight end Troy Fumagalli as well.
Ohio State wins if: Its defensive front corrals running back Jonathan Taylor. At 46 attempts per game, Wisconsin's ground game is its heartbeat and Taylor really hasn't had a bad game all season. Taking that away will force Hornibrook to move the offense single-handedly, which he can do in spurts, but I don't trust him to do it for 60 minutes. Ohio State is a force up front and putting Wisconsin in obvious passing situations means they can use their ridiculously good pass rush package.
When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET | Where: Atlanta, Georgia | Opening line: Auburn -1.5
Why it's listed here: Auburn has played as well as any team in the country lately. There's an argument based solely on November performances that the Tigers are the true No. 1 team. However, we haven't seen them actually, you know, play away from Auburn in a month, either. Couple in the precarious running back situation -- Kerryon Johnson is day-to-day but is expected to start -- and Georgia's revenge factor, and that line becomes awfully interesting.
Georgia wins if: It can protect quarterback Jake Fromm. The Bulldogs don't give up a lot of sacks, which makes sense because they don't drop back to pass a lot. Still, Auburn was able to get to Fromm four times earlier this month. If Fromm is in uncomfortable situations it's bad news for Georgia. Speaking of which ...
Auburn wins if: It can confuse and disrupt Fromm. Georgia is at its best when it is dictating the offense, which usually means its ground attack is working and Fromm is throwing fewer than 20 passes. Auburn did a great job of getting the Bulldogs out of their comfort zone a few weeks ago and will need to do so again in Atlanta. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is a Broyles Award finalist for top assistant coach for a reason. He'll need another good game plan on Saturday.
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