Last Week: 7-5 Final Regular Season Record: 86-34
So before I go into the picks, I need to express my absolute SHOCK that Jimbo Fisher is leaving Florida State for the Texas A&M opening. I’ll probably post another blog when more information comes out about this, but damn, I never thought the day would come. Fisher is one of the best coaches in the country coaching at one of the premiere college football programs. There must be something going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about, otherwise I can’t envision one down season being enough to make you want to leave that high profile job. Texas A&M got an absolute STEAL of a coach. Fisher’s 2013 Florida State squad won a national championship in the final year of the BCS so anytime you can land someone of that caliber, your outlook is going to be fantastic. So lord only knows how Florida State is going to replace him, but I’m sure they’re going to have candidates lining up for the opportunity. So now that I got my shock out of the way, let’s get to the picks for the conference championship games. I want to say that I picked USC to win the Pac 12, since that game is happening on Friday night and this blog will be finished and scheduled before that game starts.
American Athletic Conference Title Game: #20 Memphis vs #14 UCF (-7)
So despite this not being a Power-5 conference title game, I actually think this game could get really fun, and not just because both teams are ranked. There is some real firepower on both offenses. Memphis has quarterback Riley Ferguson, tailback Darrell Henderson (who ran for over 1000 yards on just 115 carries) and sleeper NFL Draft receiver Anthony Miller. UCF has McKenzie Milton at quarterback who has thrown 30 touchdowns with some solid weapons on offense, such as running back Adrian Killins Jr and receiver Tre’Quan Smith. These two teams did play earlier in the year and UCF kicked Memphis’ ass 40-13. Ferguson had arguably his worst game this season, tossing 3 interceptions against only 1 touchdown, though that could be attributed to Memphis falling behind UCF early. Eventually things just kind of got out of control for Memphis and it was 23-7 UCF at the half. Killins also had a fantastic game, as he ran for 115 yards on just 9 carries. UCF is the highest scoring offense in the country (47.6 points per game) and are a top third defense (33rd in points against at 22.5 per game). So I’m going to go with UCF to cap off a 12-0 season and earn themselves an at-large major bowl game. They’ve beaten Memphis before and if you watched that game against USF, they’ve only appeared to have gotten better.
Projected Score: UCF 42 Memphis 28
MAC Title Game: Akron vs Toledo (-21)
I don’t expect this game to be great. I’m fully anticipating Toledo running away with it. They’ve got so many weapons on offense that Akron will struggle mightily to try and keep up with. Logan Woodside is one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the nation and they have Terry Swanson at running back rushing for 1139 yards and Diontae Johnson at receiver with 1139 yards receiving (that’s not a typo, they both led their team in their respective categories with the same exact number of yards). Akron’s defense isn’t too bad, but their offense is so poor that there is absolutely no conceivable way they keep up with Toledo. I wish I could go more in depth with this, but the only teams that really have any shot at beating them in their conference are Central Michigan and Northern Illinois and they’re in Toledo’s division. Yes Toledo lost to Ohio 38-10, but Terry Swanson was hardly used at all in that game, being held to 9 yards on just 6 carries. Akron can’t do that. Toledo wins big.
Projected Score: Toledo 45 Akron 14
Conference USA Title Game: North Texas vs Florida Atlantic (-11.5)
This matchup is between two teams with COMPLETELY different philosophies on how to score points. North Texas is a gunslinging team with quarterback Mason Fine along with 3 receivers with over 500 yards and a fourth with 470. North Texas likes to spread the wealth around. Florida Atlantic under Lane Kiffin has been about as run-first a team as you can find. In fact, FAU’s leading rusher, Devin Singletary, has almost as many rushing yards (1632) as quarterback Jason Driskel has passing yards (1708). It has also led to FAU being the tenth-highest scoring team in the country. North Texas’ defense is ATROCIOUS so I have a feeling that the Owls are going to run all over them, no matter how many yards Mean Green throws for. I got Florida Atlantic winning this and Lane Kiffin sending off another Tweet that he would never send if Nick Saban had a Twitter.
Projected Score: FAU 38 North Texas 30
Mountain West Title Game: #25 Fresno State vs Boise State (-9.5)
I’m pretty surprised/impressed to find Fresno State in this situation. The Bulldogs had the worst record in the country last season at 1-11 and now they find themselves ranked and playing for a conference title game just a year later. Kind of a similar situation to UCF. UCF was winless two years ago and now they’re on the brink of being undefeated. Gotta love the parity amongst the mid-major schools. But the Bulldogs’ turnaround has been in large part due to a stellar defense. They’re 12th best in the country, allowing just 17.3 points per game and that includes allowing 41 and 48 to Alabama and Washington, respectively. Aside from those two games, they never allowed more than 26 points in a single game. I’m not so sure they’re quite good enough to deserve their #25 ranking, but their turnaround at least has been impressive. They face a Boise State team that they just beat last week 28-17. Boise State at the time was ranked 23rd. It’s Boise State’s one conference loss this season and they get an immediate shot at revenge. The Broncos’ other two losses are Washington State (only by 3 points) and Virginia, two pretty good Power 5 teams. I’m actually going to take Boise State in this one. This is more a gut feeling than anything because on paper this seems like a pretty even matchup.
Projected Score: Boise State 31 Fresno State 28
Big 12 Title Game: #11 TCU vs #3 Oklahoma (-7)
Now we get to the Power 5 matchups. This is a rematch from a few weeks ago when Oklahoma beat TCU 38-20. I mentioned in my Playoff rankings that holding TCU to 20 points is more impressive for Oklahoma’s defense than holding Kansas’ offense to 3 and I don’t think they’ll need to be quite that good this time around, simply because that’s how good Baker Mayfield has been of late. If TCU is going to beat Oklahoma, they’re going to have to be able to keep up with Oklahoma’s offense and they’re one of the few teams in the country that could actually pull this off. But they’re going to need to make a LOT of plays on the defensive side of the ball if they’re going to try and hold the Sooners to under 30 points, which is what I think they’ll have to do if they’re going to win. That’s a pretty tall task, as Oklahoma only scored under 30 points once all season, and they scored 29 in their Red River Rivalry win over Texas. I’ve got Oklahoma winning this one and punching their ticket to the Playoff.
Projected Score: Oklahoma 35 TCU 31
SEC Title Game: #6 Georgia vs #2 Auburn (-1.5)
This is a rematch of the time Auburn absolutely slaughtered Georgia 40-17 for the Bulldogs’ lone loss on the season. Alabama is also going to be watching this game intently because an Auburn win coupled with a loss from either Wisconsin or Oklahoma (preferably both) would get them into the playoff. The winner of this game is getting in regardless, I think that’s a pretty safe statement to make. If Georgia wins, they essentially erase their one loss on the season. If Auburn wins, not only will they be the first 2-loss team to ever make the Playoff, but they will have done so by beating a top 10 team 3 times in one season, including the #1 team twice. Tigers runningback Kerryon Johnson was huge in their Iron Bowl victory over Alabama but he injured his shoulder in the victory and has been a limited participant all week in practice. Auburn is also without Kamryn Pettway, the other member of their superstar stable of runningbacks, so this could be an opportune time for a very tough Georgia defense to pounce. Jarrett Stidham will likely need to step up big time. I think Georgia is going to exact some revenge here. I think they will reestablish the ground game with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and will edge Auburn for the program’s first playoff appearance.
Projected Score: Georgia 27 Auburn 21
ACC Title Game: #7 Miami (FL) vs #1 Clemson (-9.5)
Like the SEC title game, the winner of this game will more than likely get into the playoff. Both are 1-loss teams and their losses came to what should have been far inferior opponents (Miami lost to Pitt and Clemson lost to Syracuse). A 1-loss ACC champ will get in pretty much every time. Miami looked terrible in their loss to Pitt and they’re going to need to change a few things if they’re going to have any chance of knocking off the defending champion Clemson Tigers. For one, Malik Rosier NEEDS to be better than his line of 15-34 for 187 yards. A poor passing performance like that will get you eaten alive by this Clemson defense, which is arguably the best in the nation. Secondly, Rosier cannot be your leading rusher, which he was against Pitt at only 31 yards. That’s not a knock against his rushing ability, but Travis Homer needs to be better. Yes, the Hurricanes have been without star back Mark Walton, who declared for the Draft already, but Homer has been good in his absence with the exception of the Pitt game, where he only ran for 12 yards on 7 carries. But even if they’re able to improve offensively like they need to, I doubt it will be enough to unseat Clemson as the kings of the ACC. The Tigers are just too well-rounded a team. I have Clemson winning this one.
Projected Score: Clemson 31 Miami (FL) 21
Big Ten Title Game: #8 Ohio State (-6) vs #4 Wisconsin
I’m actually going to be in attendance for this game at Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s my first ever championship game of any kind so I’m pretty excited. I’m getting a Hell of a matchup, too. Ohio State, despite having a couple of ugly losses, is still alive for the playoff, but they need to not only whip Wisconsin like they did a few years ago, but they will need a lot of help. JT Barrett will play in this game, which was a concern after an injury suffered in the Michigan game when an unknown cameraman ran into him, prompting Urban Meyer’s attempts to hunt him down. Barrett underwent surgery on his knee and is still playing in this game, which you have to respect the Hell out of, but it will lead to a lot of concerns over his mobility. Barrett’s at his best when the defense fears his ability to run the football, because he’s only mediocre at best as a thrower. Wisconsin’s elite defense will likely have one less element of Barrett’s game to worry about and this could be a long day for the Buckeyes’ signal caller. On the other side, I think Wisconsin is going to struggle to move the ball as well. The Badgers’ offense is predicated on a successful run game and Ohio State has about as good a defensive line as there is in the country with the likes of Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, and Dre’Mont Jones. Jonathan Taylor is going to struggle to find running lanes. This is going to be a low-scoring game and I actually think Ohio State is going to escape with this one and win the Big Ten, though it may not matter for their playoff hopes depending on which other teams win.
Projected Score: Ohio State 17 Wisconsin 13
Those are my picks for the conference title games. I did only 8 games versus the usual 12 so I tried to make them a little longer and more in-depth. Agree with my picks? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman 10 and contribute to my Patreon.