Welcome to the most important Championship weekend ever.
The slate of games this weekend features FOUR games with two potential playoff teams squaring off against one another. None of the previous three years have featured more than two.
For several teams, it’s about as simple as win and you’re in—looking at you Clemson, Miami, Wisconsin, Auburn, Georgia, and Oklahoma.
For others, they may have to put the hammer down and win by 30-plus—Ohio State (you did it once before…), TCU, USC.
And if you’re Alabama, you just have to sit back, take in the madness, and wait to see what transpires.
Bring on the weekend.
Stanford vs. USC
The lone Friday game on our list, this one has little merit for the CFP, but means everything for a rivalry that goes back to 1905. For the Trojans, it’s a chance to cap off a season that had playoff aspirations with their first PAC 12 title since 2008, and if quarterback Sam Darnold is seriously considering entering the draft after this year, he must play well in this game after an underwhelming season.
For the Cardinal, they’re finishing up their thank-you note to the Washington Huskies and preparing for a game that is virtually in their backyard in Levi’s Stadium, a mere 15 miles away. Look for Bryce Love to secure his spot in New York for Heisman consideration, but USC comes up with a last second field goal led by a Sam Darnold game-winning drive.
Prediction: USC 30, Stanford 28
Memphis vs. UCF
The Knights have completed one of the most successful turnarounds I’ve ever seen, going from 0-12 to 11-0 within two years, yet they still face the dilemma of a Group of 5 team—they just didn’t make a big enough impact on the playoff committee by not being in a Power 5 conference, and until the playoff expands to eight teams, don’t expect teams outside the Power 5 to get a crack at the top 4, other than Notre Dame.
Both Memphis and UCF are making their first appearances in the AAC championship game, and I look for another big win for a UCF team that is averaging 47.6 points per game, the most in the country. Memphis will hang around for the first half, but the Knights have too much power on offense.
Prediction: UCF 42, Memphis 21
TCU vs. Oklahoma
The Horned Frogs just can’t catch a break—in the inaugural CFP, TCU blew out Iowa State in their last game of the season, but because the Big 12 did not have a championship game, they were dropped from 3 to 6 in the final edition of the rankings. Now that the Big 12 once again has a conference championship game, many experts believe that TCU will still be left out even with a win on Saturday.
A rematch from the regular season, the Horned Frogs must find a way to contain the Sooners’ high-powered offense. They gave up 200 rushing yards and over 300 passing yards in the first contest, and Oklahoma didn’t even score in the second half. Look for a closer contest this time, but Mayfield puts a stamp on his Heisman campaign as the Sooners ride off into the CFP sunset.
Prediction: Oklahoma 34, TCU 24
Georgia vs. Auburn
One of two play-in games on championship weekend should prove to live up to the hype—Auburn took it to Georgia the last time these two played in Jordan-Hare, beating the number one Bulldogs 40-17. But it’s always difficult to beat a team twice in one year, and Georgia will be hungry for revenge on neutral turf.
Auburn was vaulted to number 2 in the College Football Playoff Rankings this week, indicating that the committee values the two wins over the number one team more than the Tigers’ two losses, and should Auburn walk out of the Atlanta with a win, they’d likely be the first two-loss team to ever make the CFP. I’ll go against the grain on this one and say Georgia pulls out a close win as they use “homefield advantage” (the SEC Championship is in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Georgia) to reach their first College Football Playoff.
Prediction: Georgia 24, Auburn 20
Fresno State vs. Boise State
Not the most eye-popping game on the slate, but this will be one of the best games of the weekend. Fresno State already beat Boise State last weekend, but Saturday’s game will be on the famous blue field of the Broncos.
A home game in the conference championship? Doesn’t sound right, but that is the format the Mountain West decided upon—homefield advantage would be decided based on who was ranked higher in the CFP rankings, but since neither team was ranked (yes, Fresno State is ranked 25 now, but it would be too late to wait until now to schedule a stadium), it went to the computers, similar to the BCS. It was determined that Boise State had a stronger resume, so off to Idaho we go.
Revenge is sweetest in the conference championship game, look for the Broncos to win the Mountain West for the first time since 2014.
Prediction: Boise State 28, Fresno State 24
Miami vs. Clemson
Our second play-in game of the weekend, and the site of College Gameday Championship weekend! Along with Ohio State-Wisconsin, there is no previous tape to review from this year between these two teams, so expect the unexpected.
Each of these teams has a very bad loss on the road, but Clemson has had time to recover and build momentum back to the top spot—The Hurricanes are fresh off their first loss of the season and looking to recover some of the “turnover chain” magic that has been with them all year.
The two biggest factors to this game are whether or not Miami can A). overcome a hostile environment that should favor Clemson, and B). keep Kelly Bryant in the pocket—he’s rushed 65 more times than the next highest rusher, and has 10 touchdowns on the ground. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, they won’t be able to do either of these tasks. Tigers by 9.
Prediction: Clemson 23, Miami 14
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin
This may be the biggest game in Badger history—Wisconsin capped off its first undefeated season in the modern era, but that 13th win would take the cake. Despite the constant negative press the Badgers are getting from experts and the college football nation, they rolled in at number four in this week’s rankings, and a win would surely keep them there.
Believe it or not, the Buckeyes are still in this thing. Depending how you value bad losses, number of losses, and conference championships, Ohio State has an argument both ways, but they would need to beat Wisconsin handily and would require a little help from the Horned Frogs.
Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barrett had knee surgery on Thursday, but is still expected to start Saturday’s game. The Badgers have not faced an offense anywhere near the caliber of Ohio State’s, but it’s the not the defense Wisconsin fans should be worried about—this game is won or lost on the arm of Alex Hornibrook. If he resorts to his multi-interception ways, Wisconsin will find itself losing yet another Big Ten Championship game. However, if he comes out firing like he has the past two weeks, the Badgers will reach their first playoff in school history. For history’s sake, give me the latter.
Prediction: Wisconsin 23, Ohio State 20