NCAA Football: Conference Championships Preview

  • Post Author
    by Sports director
  • Post Date
    Fri Dec 18 2020

Author: Zack Cherney

MADISON- This absolutely wild college football season is coming to a close which means it is time for the conference championship games. Some teams are just fighting for bragging rights, but several are fighting for a playoff spot making these games extremely important. There are plenty of great games this weekend so let's take a look at the matchups of the Power Five conferences. 

Pac-12: Oregon (3-2) vs. No. 13 USC (5-0)

Date and Time: Dec. 18, 7:00 p.m.

After the Washington Huskies were determined to be ineligible to play due to COVID-19 reasons, the Oregon Ducks, despite their poor record, were announced as the new replacement to go for the Pac-12 North. After a long-awaited start to the season, Oregon, who had not played any games while so many others already had, came into the season ranked No. 12 in the AP Poll. Following two easy victories, they were able to escape getting upset by UCLA to start the season 3-0. Their fourth game proved to be crucial against their in-state rival Oregon State. Following a strong defensive showing in the first three quarters, Oregon State was able to score 22 points in the fourth quarter to claim a stunning 41-38 victory. The very next weekend they were upset 21-17 by Cal who shut them out in the second half to finish the regular season. Following these two losses, they dropped out of the AP Top 25.  

USC has shown to be a tough team to hold the lead against, as they have shown an unusual ability to win games in the final moments. In their first game against Arizona State there was 4:28 remaining on the clock with ASU winning 27-14, but in just over a minute and a half USC scored a touchdown to make it 27-21. They then recovered the onside kick which led to the game-winning touchdown giving them a 28-27 victory. Then in their next game against Arizona, they scored the game-winning touchdown with just 25 seconds remaining, and in their final game against UCLA, they scored a game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds remaining. This has been a resilient team that has marched their way to No. 13 in the rankings for the College Football Playoffs (CFP).

USC does not crack under pressure and going up against a team that has struggled mightily in their last two games should fare well for USC. Last season, Oregon easily beat Utah 37-15 to claim the Pac-12 title. The last time USC won was in 2017 when they defeated Stanford 31-28. Despite the strong reputation of Oregon, USC is looking to make a statement.  

Big Ten: No. 4 Ohio State (5-0) vs. No. 14 Northwestern (6-1) 

Date and Time: Dec. 19, 11:00 a.m. 

This is Northwestern's second time representing the Big Ten West in the past three years. This season has proven to be one of the best in the history of the school as they started the season 5-0 for the first time since 2015 and finished the season 6-1. They began their season with a convincing 43-3 victory over Nebraska and then won three one-score games against Iowa, Nebraska, and Purdue. Their only loss of the season came on the road against the struggling Michigan State. Northwestern has by far been the best team in the West, but their ability to play well on both sides of the ball against a really talented team is about to be tested. 

The Buckeyes currently sit at No. 4 on the CFP rankings and this is a major reason why the Big Ten decided to let them play in the championship game. OSU should not be in the championship games because to be eligible for the championship game a team must play six games and OSU has only played five, but the Big Ten decided to change this rule. This change is because the Power-5 conferences get six-million dollars if they get a team in the playoffs and OSU is their best chance at that. Despite the lack of reason for OSU to be in this position, they have easily dominated each team they have played this year by scoring an average of 46.6 points per game. 

OSU is looking to win their third Big Ten Championship in as many years and fourth overall. When these two teams matched up in 2018 OSU came away with a dominant 45-24 victory. OSU has been on a roll and shows no signs of letting up, but Northwestern is hungry for their first Big Ten title. 

Big 12: No. 10 Oklahoma (7-2) vs. No. 6 Iowa State (8-2)

Date and Time: Dec. 19, 11:00 a.m.

Oklahoma has been the most dominant force in the Big 12 for the last couple of decades. They have won the Big 12 Championship game the last four years and this dominance has been led by back-to-back Heisman winners in 2017 and 2018: Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. This season they have been led by quarterback Spencer Rattler who has been strong, but overall this has been a fight from the start. After an easy win to start the season they stood at No. 3 in the AP Poll, but for the second year in a row, they were stunned by Kansas State in a crushing 38-35 upset which dropped them down to No. 18. The very next weekend they lost 37-30 to Iowa State pushing them out of the Top 25. Despite these struggles, they finished the season by winning six in a row and landing at No. 10 in the CFP rankings as they head into the championship game. 

For Iowa State, this is their first Big 12 Championship. After losing their first game of the season, they have proven to be a powerful force in college football. After winning their next three games, they lost by three to Oklahoma State which knocked them down to No. 23 in the AP Poll. In their final five games, they went 5-0 as they alternated blowouts and one-score games to the point where they were able to not only make it to the Big 12 Championship but also put them in a position, where with a win, could make a case for the CFP as they currently sit at No. 6.

Oklahoma is looking to continue its streak of dominance, but Iowa State wants to make a case for the CFP. Iowa State already beat Oklahoma 37-30 in early October and they have all-time high confidence to the point where they feel they can take down any team. 

ACC: No. 3 Clemson (9-1) vs. No. 2 Notre Dame (10-0)

Date and Time: Dec. 19, 3:00 p.m.

Clemson came into the season with extremely high expectations following yet another National Championship appearance, and Trevor Lawrance was starting his junior year. Clemson made easy work of almost all of their opponents this season as they averaged 46 ppg and a margin of victory of 28.8 ppg. With numbers like these, Clemson is easily one of the most dominant and well-rounded teams on both sides of the ball. Their two closest games came in back-to-back weeks. The first of those games was a 34-28 win over Boston College. Boston College had a 28-13 lead at halftime but was then shut out in the second half. The second of those games and one of the best games of the college football season was in the much-anticipated matchup against Notre Dame which ended in a double-overtime victory for Notre Dame that handed Clemson their first regular-season loss since Oct. 13, 2017. 

Notre Dame up until this season has been independent, but due to all that this year has had to offer they decided to join the ACC. To start the season Notre Dame was ranked No. 10 in the AP Poll and being in the ACC they knew if they performed well enough they would have a chance at their first-ever conference championship game. After easily winning their first three games, they had a defense-heavy game against Louisville where they came out on top 12-7. Following that close victory, they averaged 40.7 ppg. Their game against Clemson was their first chance to prove they are the real deal and after pulling out the 47-40 victory, they have proven to be a true CFP contender.    

This should be the best conference championship game as two of the best teams in the country rematch in what should be a shoot out until the very end. Clemson is no stranger to these big moments especially since they have won the last five ACC Championship games by an average of 25.4 ppg. Notre Dame however is new to this, but they are looking to defeat one of the giants of College Football for the second time this season.

SEC: No. 1 Alabama (10-0) vs. No. 7 Florida (8-2)

Date and Time: Dec. 19, 7:00 p.m.

Last season was the first season since the creation of the CFP (2014-2015 season) in which Alabama was not one of the top four teams in the final CFP rankings. This year is a different story as until the Week 11 AP Poll rankings they sat at No. 2 behind only Clemson, but since Clemson's loss to Notre Dame, Alabama has not budged from the top of either the AP or CFP rankings. Alabama has also been on another level offensively as they have scored an average of 49.5 ppg including two games of 63 points. They have shown no signs of slowing down and are hungry to get back to the playoffs.

For Florida, this has been a season with a lot of hope that they might make it to their first CFP as they are led by the killer Kyle combo of Heisman front-runner quarterback Kyle Trask and star receiver Kyle Pitts. After starting 2-0, they lost a close one 41-38 to Texas A&M which dropped them from No. 4 in the AP Poll to No. 10. They bounced back with several big victories including a 44-28 win over their rival as well as the No. 5 ranked Georgia. Coming up to the last game of the season they had won six straight games by an average margin of victory of 20.8 ppg and they were about to face an inexperienced LSU team. Florida needed this win in order to keep their CFP hopes alive, but LSU surprised the entire country and pulled out a 37-34 victory.    

The last time Florida was able to claim an SEC title was in 2008 when they beat Alabama 31-20, but since then Alabama has won six titles including three victories over Florida (2009: 32-13; 2015: 29-15; 2016: 54-16). Including the regular season, 2008 is the last time Florida has had bragging rights over Alabama. The power of Alabama is unmatched by any team this season, but Florida has a lot to prove and this is their chance.