Well folks, the 2014 college football season is coming to an end. There is just one week left in the regular season, and after this weekend, we’ll know which teams are going to what bowls and, more importantly, which four teams will participate in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Every conference, with the exception of the American Athletic and Big 12, will have a conference championship game this weekend, and there will obviously be major playoff implications.
Conference USA Championship
Louisiana Tech (8-4, 7-1 C-USA) vs. Marshall (11-1, 7-1 C-USA)
Marshall’s hopes for a New Year’s Day bowl came to an end last week with the Thundering Herd’s overtime loss to Western Kentucky. Will there be a hangover from that disappointment? Still, this is a powerful, experienced team that has shredded almost every team on its schedule (and still scored 66 points in its lone loss). Marshall rolls in this one.
#1 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. #16 Missouri (10-2, 7-1 SEC)
It’s no surprise that Alabama in this position, but nobody picked Missouri to be in this position. When Mizzou joined the SEC, most observers felt the Tigers wouldn’t be able to compete, yet here they are, in the title game for the second year-in-a-row.
Alabama hasn’t been as dominant as we’ve grown accustomed, but make no mistake, the Crimson Tide are still among the nation’s elite. The defense has sprung a few leaks this year, but that has been compensated by a powerful offense not seen during the Saban Era. Alabama ranks 21st nationally in passing offense with quarterback Blake Sims throwing to Biletnikoff-finalist Amari Cooper, and the Tide are still potent running the ball.
Missouri’s defense will pose the Tide’s toughest test yet, however. The Tigers’ front seven is among the best in the nation, racking up 40 sacks thus far this season. Mizzou leads the SEC in yards per play allowed and yards per game allowed in conference play.
If Alabama wins, it locks up a playoff spot. There is no way for the Tigers to sneak into the playoff, even with a win over the top-ranked team in the land; they are just too far back in the rankings. However, a win by Mizzou will likely keep the SEC out of the playoff, which would be humiliating for the conference that had won seven-straight national titles before last year.
Alabama’s offense will have a tough day against Mizzou’s defense, but the Tide defense will carry the day against an average Mizzou offense.
#4 Florida State (12-0, 8-0 ACC) vs. #11 Georgia Tech (10-2, 6-2 ACC)
Florida State is the lone undefeated team in the country, but the Seminoles have struggled all year long, needing numerous second-half comebacks against inferior teams. A win here will sew up a playoff berth and let the ‘Noles defend their national title. A loss scuttles any chance of that.
Florida State’s defense has struggled against teams that can run the ball, and that’s not what you want to hear when facing Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets have the country’s third-best rushing offense, averaging 333.8 yards a game with their triple-option attack. Only a few teams run the option, making it extremely hard to prepare for.
Florida State did face an option team earlier this year, but it was The Citadel. Lacking the caliber of athletes of Georgia Tech, The Citadel was still able to rush for 250 yards.
Georgia Tech’s defense is good but not great; however, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is coming off a four-interception performance and has thrown 11 in his last six games.
FSU’s offense will be under even more pressure since they will have fewer possessions due to Georgia Tech’s run-heavy, ball-control offensive attack.
Prediction: Georgia Tech
Big Ten Championship
#13 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) vs. #5 Ohio State (11-1, 8-0 Big Ten)
Man, this is a tough one for the Buckeyes. On the bright side, they’ve overcome the loss of Braxton Miller and an early-season defeat to Virginia Tech to put themselves on the cusp of the playoff.
Unfortunately, quarterback J.T. Barrett, one of the most pleasant surprises of the season, broke his ankle last weekend against Michigan. Barrett has been sensational, but it’s now up to redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones to lead the offense against a tough Wisconsin defense.
Even if the Buckeyes win, there is some doubt they would move up into the top four. The playoff committee has said they will take injuries into consideration, so if Ohio State struggles on offense and narrowly gets past Wisconsin, there is a chance the committee keeps the Buckeyes out because of their quarterback situation.
That’s all speculation for now because beating Wisconsin won’t be easy, even with a healthy Barrett.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is a legitimate Heisman contender who broke the single-game rushing record–albeit briefly–earlier this season when he rushed for 408 yards in three quarters against Nebraska. Gordon has 2,260 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns this year.
Wisconsin’s defense ranks second nationally in total defense and yields just 16.8 points a game.
The Big 12 no longer has a conference championship game due to having only ten teams (yes, math is hard), but the conference champion will be determined this weekend.
TCU is ranked third in the latest playoff rankings and faces a two-win Iowa State team that hasn’t won a conference game this season.
The Horned Frogs struggled against woeful Kansas a few weeks ago, and Iowa State has a history of pulling off upsets. However, those occur at home, and this game is in Texas. Plus, TCU knows it needs to put on a dominant performance to sway the minds of the committee and stay ahead of Baylor.
Speaking of the Bears, sixth-ranked Baylor has a huge game against #9 Kansas State. Win, and the Bears win a share of the Big 12 title with TCU. Lose, and any playoff hopes are finished. If K-State wins, they’ll get a share of the conference title as well.
If Baylor wins, things get really interesting. They own a head-to-head victory at home against TCU, but the committee has consistently ranked the Frogs ahead of the Bears. Would the committee really let TCU into the playoff while keeping out a one-loss Baylor team that won its conference and beat that team?
On the flip side, how do you now demote TCU after ranking them third?
As for the game itself, Baylor ruined K-State’s national title hopes a couple years ago, and the Wildcats would love to return the favor.
Kansas State is well-coached and disciplined, and the Wildcats don’t beat themselves. Their defense is really good, but Baylor has gotten the best of it the past two years.
Mountain West Championship
Fresno State (6-6, 5-3 MW) vs. #22 Boise State (10-2, 7-1 MW)
Boise’s going to roll in this one. The Mountain division has been, by far, the better division in the Mountain West this year, fielding the league’s four best teams in Boise, Colorado State, Utah State, and Air Force.
Boise State secured the division with a dominant performance against Utah State. The Aggies have the league’s best defense, yet Boise piled up 50 points.
Fresno State, which lost 37-27 to Boise already this year, gives up 33 points a game. If the Broncos win, they’ll lock up a berth in a prestigious New Year’s Day bowl game.