Welcome to College Football’s Conference Championship Weekend! We all had hoped to be heading to Charlotte this weekend to be playing for a title, but because of conference-instituted scheduling imbalance, an inferior team just to our west will get that opportunity.
Still, there’s a good weekend of football ahead of us, starting Friday.
To cut to it, unless you really want to see Ohio State and/or Alabama, two teams that didn’t even win their own conference divisions, in the College Football Playoff, then you need to root for Georgia, Michigan, TCU, and USC this weekend. Frankly, that’s a much more interesting playoff to me than including an Ohio State squad that just got its doors blown off by Michigan last week and an Alabama squad that has two losses and probably should have a few more on the tally sheet.
On to the games...
In addition to the ten conference title games, we also get two additional make-up games as Buffalo and... (checks notes)... New Mexico State each try to earn their sixth wins against inferior opponents.
Speaking of, the first game of the weekend is Friday afternoon at 1:00pm as Buffalo hosts Akron in a makeup from a few weeks ago thanks to that massive snow storm that also forced the Bills to play a “home” game in Detroit. Buffalo lost their first three games of the season, reeled off five straight wins, and then lost their last three to go from conference champion favorites to needing to win this one to get to a bowl game. MACtion!
The Conference USA title game is a rematch - on the same field, no less - from late October when UTSA beat North Texas by four points in San Antonio. UTSA is the favorite, and rightly so, as they’re undefeated in conference play and are the defending champs. Jeff Traylor has done an incredible job with that program in his first head coaching gig (29-9 overall, 20-3 conference).
The big Friday game is that Pac-12 Championship Game between Utah and USC in Las Vegas. According to the advanced metrics, this is the most evenly matched game of the weekend. The Utes topped the Trojans in Salt Lake City back in mid-October with a late game rally to capture a one-point win. USC QB Caleb Williams is worth watching on his own as he’s the current Heisman Trophy favorite. Utah QB Cameron Rising isn’t on that level, but he’s a gritty player who seems to have a higher gear in big games. The Utes’ Dalton Kincaid is the best TE in the country.
Saturday has the Big XII title game leading things off. TCU has mostly lived on the edge this year in their undefeated season, going 5-0 in one possession games with 2nd half come-from-behind victories in three others, including their earlier meeting with Kansas State. In that previous game, K-State led 28-10 in the 1st half despite losing starting QB Adrian Martinez (Nebraska transfer) and didn’t relinquish that lead until 3:45 to go in the 3rd quarter. QB Will Howard filled in for the Wildcats, has performed better, and will be the starter in this one.
The MAC championship has teams going in opposite ways. Toledo looked like the clear best team in the conference for the majority of the year, but has lost three of their last five (including each of the last two), with all five of those games being one-possession affairs. Ohio, meanwhile, is on a seven-game winning streak. To keep that going and capture the program’s first conference title since 1968 (Ohio was 0-4 in MAC title games under former coach Frank Solich) they’ll have to do it with backup QB C.J. Harris as starter Kurtis Rourke was lost for the year two weeks ago with a knee injury.
In a game almost nobody is going to watch, New Mexico State is hosting FCS Valparaiso as they try to reach just their 2nd bowl game since 1960 (the other was in 2017). If they can win this game and their bowl game, it would be just the 2nd winning season for the Aggies since 2002. Fun fact: NMSU is averaging 22.0 points per game while giving up an average of 26.3 per game.
Troy is hosting the Sun Belt title game, and rightfully so. The Trojans are on a 9-game winning streak and would have gone undefeated in conference play if not for that absurd App State Hail Mary back in Week 3. Troy won the division head-to-head tie breaker with South Alabama thanks to that boring 10-6 win back in October. They’ll be facing off with Coastal Carolina, who didn’t actually win their division, but still reached the title game thanks to the dumb rule that first-year FBS schools aren’t eligible for conference titles or bowl games. James Madison might be the best team in the Sun Belt. It sucks that they won’t get an opportunity to prove it.
LSU would be playing for a potential CFP berth in addition to the SEC title, but they up and got beat down by Texas A&M (it was only the 2nd conference win for the Aggies this year) last week to throw that out of the window. Georgia will make the CFP regardless of the outcome of this one.
UCF and Tulane will be playing for both the AAC title and the G5 slot in a New Year’s Six (played on January 2nd) bowl game. This year, that’s the Cotton Bowl. The Green Wave’s only conference loss of the year was by 7-points against UCF on the same field this game will be played. UCF has played five straight one-possession games (4-1 during that stretch) while Tulane has won seven of their last eight games. Just a reminder, Tulane was 2-10 last year.
Fresno State started the year 1-4, including a 20-point loss at Boise State, before winning their last seven straight to reach the Mountain West title game. This will be a rematch (in the same location - Boise, ID) as the 2014, 2017, and 2018 MWC title games. Boise State won two of those previous games, but Fresno State won the last one. BSU coach Andy Avalos was on the hot seat back in late September following a loss to UTEP that dropped the team to 2-2 and put his record with the Broncos at just 9-7. They’ve won every game since.
Purdue is 3-0 against Top 5 ranked teams under Jeff Brohm, but... come one. You really think they’re going to win this one? If they can, it would be the Boilermakers first Big Ten title since 2000 when Drew Brees was the QB. Michigan is in the CFP regardless of the outcome of this one. A win gives the Wolverines back-to-back Big Ten titles for the first time since 2003-2004.
Clemson and UNC both come limping into the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. The Tigers are just 2-2 in their last four games, their worst stretch since early in the 2021 season when NC State’s win over Clemson did the same. Four weeks ago, the team was blown out at Notre Dame, while last week’s loss snapped their seven-game winning streak over rival South Carolina. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, have lost two in a row after a luck and soft schedule driven 9-1 start to the year. The matchup here will be between UNC’s offense and Clemson’s defense. Will Shipley should have a field day against the Tar Heels’ defense. As long as D.J. Uiagalelei doesn’t decide to be a turnover machine again, the Tigers should be in a good position to win their 7th ACC title over the last 8 seasons.
Enjoy the football!
127/156 Akron @ 97/104 Buffalo - 1:00pm - ESPN+
[C-USA] - 73/100 North Texas @ 48/63 UTSA - 7:30pm - CBSSN
[Pac-12] - 10/9 Utah vs 11/11 USC - 8:00pm - FOX
[Big XII] - 9/10 Kansas State vs 6/7 TCU - 12:00pm - ABC
[MAC] - 81/89 Toledo vs 85/69 Ohio - 12:00pm - ESPN
FCS/253 Valparaiso @ 116/153 New Mexico State - 3:00pm - Bally/Flo
[Sun Belt] - 69/91 Coastal Carolina @ 44/61 Troy - 3:30pm - ESPN
[SEC] - 15/15 LSU vs 1/1 Georgia - 4:00pm - CBS
[AAC] - 36/44 UCF @ 28/34 Tulane - 4:00pm - ABC
[MWC] - 59/54 Fresno State @ 52/37 Boise State - 4:00pm - FOX
[Big Ten] - 47/42 Purdue vs 2/3 Michigan - 8:00pm - FOX
[ACC] - 13/13 Clemson vs 46/49 North Carolina - 8:00pm - ABC