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. The action kicks off–no pun intended–tonight with two conference title games, including one involving two teams that could feasibly earn a playoff spot.
Friday, December 5
MAC Championship: Northern Illinois (10-2, 7-1 MAC) vs. Bowling Green (7-5, 5-3 MAC)
Despite losing prolific quarterback Jordan Lynch to graduation, Northern Illinois has kept on rollin’. The Huskies are appearing in their fifth-straight MAC title game and will be facing the team that kept them out of a BCS berth a year ago, the Bowling Green Falcons. Bowling Green lost its own star quarterback, Matt Johnson, to an injury early this season, and while its a remarkable achievement for the Falcons to make it back to the conference championship for the second-straight year, Northern Illinois just has too much balance on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Northern Illinois
Pac-12 Championship: #7 Arizona (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) vs. #2 Oregon (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12)
Oregon was ranked second in the latest CFB playoff rankings, so for the Ducks, it’s simple: win, and you’re in. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has had a superb season and is the presumptive Heisman favorite. He’s completed 68.8 percent of his passes and thrown for 3,470 yards and 36 touchdowns with a mind-boggling two interceptions. Yes, you read that right. He’s thrown just two interceptions in 334 attempts.
Oh, and he’s rushed for over 600 yards with another 11 touchdowns.
However, of the four games he has lost in his stellar career, two have come at the hands of Arizona. The Wildcats have won their past two meetings with the Ducks, including earlier this year when they stunned the Ducks 31-24 in Eugene, Oregon. The Wildcats have forced Mariota into six turnovers in those games.
Oregon’s offensive line is much healthier in this matchup, which is huge. Arizona’s Scooby Wright is one of the best defenders in the country, and it was his strip-sack of Mariota that sealed the win a few weeks ago.
If Arizona wins, not only does it open up a spot for a team outside of the top four, but it also raises an interesting question about Arizona. Should the Wildcats make the playoff? They’d have beaten Oregon twice away from home, after all. The losses to USC and UCLA aren’t great, but there are other teams with worse losses (Ohio State, Baylor). On the flip side, no other team in the country would be able to match those two wins.
Arizona has had Oregon’s number of late, but it’s hard to beat a team three times in a row. Oregon is firing on all cylinders right now, and while Arizona is undoubtedly good, there have been some chinks in the armor. It’ll be a good game, but Oregon will pull away.