With the College Football Playoff on the horizon, eight conferences will hold their championship games this weekend. While eight teams will be crowned conference champions, four teams will be hoping to play for an even bigger prize come January. In just a few days we’ll find out who those teams are but until then, here’s my predictions for this weekend’s NCAA Football Conference Championship games.
MAC Championship- Detroit, MI- Friday @ 8:00
Bowling Green Falcons (9-3, 7-1) vs Northern Illinois Huskies (8-4, 6-2)
For the third consecutive year, these two teams will meet in the MAC Championship with both teams splitting the previous two meetings. The Huskies are making their sixth consecutive appearance in the championship game and are looking for their fourth conference title during this stretch. The teams didn’t meet during the regular season and the Huskies will be down to their third string quarterback for this battle. I think that will be the difference. The Falcons score a ton of points with a high octane offense led by the nation’s leading passer Matt Johnson, and I do not see Northern Illinois being able to match it.
Prediction: Bowling Green– 38, Northern Illinois- 24
American Athletic Conference Championship- Houston, TX- Saturday @ Noon
#22 Temple Owls (10-2, 7-1) vs #19 Houston Cougars (11-1, 7-1)
Another championship matchup featuring two teams that did not play during the regular season. The game will be played in Houston’s backyard which is an added bonus for the Cougars. Houston is led by dual-threat quarterback Greg Ward Jr, who has 15 touchdowns through the air this year and another 17 on the ground. Temple however, has the nation’s 13th ranked rush defense and are poised for the upset. Also, did you know that in 2012 I moved to Philadelphia and had actually applied and was accepted to Temple University before ultimately moving back home later that year? For that, give me the Owls–my almost Alma Mater.
Prediction: Temple- 30, Houston- 27
Conference USA Championship- Bowling Green, KY- Saturday @ Noon
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (9-3, 7-1) vs Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (10-2, 8-0)
Talk about a game that could have some fireworks. Both the Golden Eagles and Hilltoppers rank inside the top-10 in passing yards and I would expect an absolute shootout in this one. At quarterback for Western Kentucky is a future NFL play-caller, in my opinion, in Brandon Doughty. After throwing for 49 touchdowns last year, Doughty has his eyes on 50+ this year and I see him as a mid-round steal for an NFL team.
Prediction: Western Kentucky- 45, Southern Mississippi- 35
SEC Championship– Atlanta, GA- Saturday @ 4:00
#18 Florida Gators (10-2, 7-1) vs #2 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1, 7-1)
The first game that will have playoff implications takes place in the Georgia Dome as Alabama looks to solidify a spot in the Final Four with a win over Florida. The Gators come in with a good record, ranked in the top-20 but haven’t looked good in about a month. After getting dominated by Florida State, Florida will need to clean up a lot of things if they plan on making a game out of this one. Alabama on the other hand, has won 9 in a row and looks poised to make its second consecutive playoff appearance. I don’t think this Alabama team is nearly as talented as we’ve seen from coach Saban usually, but Derrick Henry is an absolute monster, who very well may take home the Heisman trophy. Both Florida and Alabama feature top-5 defenses, so the Gators will need to force Alabama to beat them through the air.
Prediction: Alabama- 31, Florida- 14
Mountain West Championship– San Diego, CA- Saturday @ 7:30
Air Force Falcons (8-4, 6-2) vs San Diego State Aztecs (9-3, 8-0)
It’s always tough to defend the triple option, and that’s the task at hand for San Diego State this weekend. Air Force isn’t going to beat you through the air, as their starting quarterback actually has one more interception than he does passing touchdowns on the year. San Diego State is also led by their ground attack and features a couple really talented backs that can also catch the ball out of the backfield.
Prediction: San Diego State- 27, Air Force- 20
PAC 12 Championship– Santa Clara, CA- Saturday @ 7:45
#20 USC Trojans (8-4, 6-3) vs #7 Stanford Cardinals (10-2, 8-1)
Finally, a championship that features a rematch from the regular season. Way back in week 3, Stanford traveled to the Coliseum and defeated the Trojans 41-31 after trailing by 11 points in the second quarter. Over the past couple months both teams have changed, however, I think it’s Stanford who has changed for the better. The Cardinals are as talented as any team in the country but sit at #7 and need some help if they hope to make it to the College Football Playoff. Led by one of the more exciting players in college football, Stanford has Sophomore Christian McCaffrey close to breaking NCAA records for All-Purpose Yards. McCaffrey does it all, from sprinting through holes from the backfield, catching screens or balls over the middle, to being an explosive weapon in the return game. He is impossible to shut down. Hell, he even threw a touchdown pass this season. Both USC and Stanford have experienced 3+ year starters at quarterback in Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan. Neither will shy away from the spotlight or pressure and this game could come down to who protects the ball better.
Prediction: Stanford- 34, USC- 31
Big Ten Championship– Indianapolis, IN- Saturday @ 8:00
#4 Iowa Hawkeyes (12-0, 8-0) vs #5 Michigan State Spartans (11-1, 7-1)
As Mike wrote a couple days ago, these two teams couldn’t have had any more different paths to get to this game. While their records are about the same, the expectations and buzz surrounding both programs over the past few months have been polar opposites. Iowa was never expected to really compete for the Big Ten West, let alone run the table, while Michigan State was picked by many to be Ohio State’s only true road block in the way of another Buckeye championship. As I myself wrote in September, it is playoff or bust for the Spartans, and the winner of this game is all but assured a spot in the Final 4. Iowa is anything but flashy, offensively they have a ground and pound attack that wears you down and are very solid on the defensive end. Old smashmouth Big Ten football at its finest. Michigan State is led by potentially the best quarterback in the country in Senior Connor Cook, but has a defense that has been playing very well the last few weeks after being decimated by injury early in the season. I think this game is going to be won in the trenches. Can Iowa get their rushing attack going and keep Michigan State’s front-7 out of their backfield and on the other end, can Michigan State give Cook time to throw and make plays down the field?
Prediction: Michigan State- 24, Iowa- 21
ACC Championship– Charlotte, NC- Saturday @ 8:00
#1 Clemson Tigers (12-0, 8-0) vs #10 North Carolina Tar Heels (11-1, 8-0)
The ACC didn’t get much love heading into the 2015 season as only Florida State was inside the top-10. Clemson found themselves at #12 and North Carolina wasn’t given much of a chance to make any noise. Instead, both teams made it through conference play unscathed and almost the entire season as a whole as well. The Tar Heels lost their opener to South Carolina but have since won 11 in a row. While neither team boasts the strongest schedule, both feature very talented quarterbacks who are looking to silence the critics. Sophomore Deshaun Watson for the Tigers and Senior Marquise Williams from North Carolina are almost carbon copies of one another in how they play the game, and their statistics are pretty close as well. Vegas is giving North Carolina more and more of a chance as each day goes by, so this one figures to be a good one.
Prediction: Clemson- 38, North Carolina- 30