The regular season is over. Bowl season is on its way. But, before we get there, there’s plenty of time for chaos to unfold as conferences crown their championships this weekend. And, following Tuesday’s release of the latest College Football Playoff rankings, there’s still plenty to be decided based on how these games shake out over the course of the weekend.
#12 Stanford vs. #10 USC (-3), Friday 8:00 p.m.
The Pac-12, barring absolute chaos, is likely out of the playoff picture. However, the conference championship is on the line and these teams have developed a nice little rivalry over the past five-to-ten years. Prior to Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, this rivalry was largely dominated by the Trojans over the course of the school’s history. But, since 2007, Stanford has won nine of the last 12 meetings. The most recent one, earlier this year, went in favor of the Trojans 42-24, ending a three game Cardinal winning streak in the rivalry.
In that game, USC dominated Stanford in the trenches, rushing 48 times for 307 yards and a pair of touchdowns while QB Sam Darnold also had a great day completing 21 of 26 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns. Since those early season struggles, Stanford’s defense has settled in, allowing 24 or fewer points in nine of their last 10 games. This time around, it should be a much tighter game and a good kickoff to championship weekend with the Friday night start.
#20 Memphis vs. #14 UCF (-7), Saturday 12:00 p.m. (ABC)
If you don’t already know who the young man in the above picture is, you may want to familiarize yourself with him as soon as possible. Shaquem Griffin, the reigning American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, is once again proving to be a terror to opposing offenses. He’s racked up 56 tackles on the season with eight for a loss and three-and-a-half sacks to go along with an interception this season. He’s the heartbeat of this UCF defense that is allowing opponents just 22.5 PPG this season.
The Knights’ D will be tested by Memphis. The Tigers, under Mike Norvell’s direction, have averaged 47 points per game this season. That ranks second in the country, right behind UCF’s own offense which averages a little over 48 points per outing. The QB duel will be fascinating to watch in this one as McKenzie Milton and Riley Ferguson have been two of the more prolific QBs this season. If last week against South Florida was any indication, we could have one of the most entertaining games of the season on our hands here.
#11 TCU vs. #3 Oklahoma (-7), Saturday 12:30 p.m. (FOX)
Judging by the rankings, it would appear that the Big 12’s best chance at the playoff is if Oklahoma wins. If TCU is able to pull the upset, the conference could very well find itself on the outside looking in. However, with the way the Sooners, and QB Baker Mayfield in particular, have been playing recently, Oklahoma looks to be on track to win and book a spot in the playoff.
The previous game between the two teams came earlier in November and the Sooners offense rolled up 533 yards including 200 on the ground which were both the highest totals of the year. Gary Patterson is a defensive mastermind and he surely has stayed up late at night watching tape from that game over and over again. He’ll have a new defensive plan to try and contain the Sooners this week. But, Mayfield has seemingly laid waste to even the best defensive game plans against him this season as he hasn’t been held under 250 yards passing, and he’s only been held under 300 yards four times (Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas, WVU). That chess match will be fascinating to watch.
#6 Georgia vs. #2 Auburn (-2.5), Saturday 4:00 p.m.
The rematch. Auburn walloped Georgia as part of its five-game winning streak to end the regular season. That was the game where the Tigers really announced themselves as national title contenders and they now find themselves in perfect position for the playoff. Win, and they’re safely in. Georgia isn’t in a bad position either, sitting in the six spot with just one loss and a chance to avenge that loss and win a conference title to bolster their resume. Basically, this is a quarterfinal for the playoff without officially being one.
The Bulldogs will have to find a way to get their running game going in this game. They had just 46 yards on the ground on 32 carries in the first meeting between the two teams. If that repeats itself, we’re looking at another blowout. One other thing to watch for is the play of Jarrett Stidham. He has been tremendous in the Tigers two biggest games of the season (Georgia and Alabama) and has really opened things up with the deep ball to Darrius Slayton. Kerryon Johnson comes into this game banged up after the battle with Alabama, so Stidham may need to do even more here.
#8 Ohio State vs. #4 Wisconsin (+6), Saturday 8:00 p.m.
The Big Ten Championship game has some intrigue attached to it when it comes to playoff scenarios. If Wisconsin wins, it would be hard for the committee to keep out an undefeated Badgers team. If the Buckeyes win, there’s more of an argument between them and a one-loss Alabama team in terms of who should get a spot.
On the field, these teams didn’t meet this season, which is part of the reason so many are skeptical of the Badgers success. Wisconsin didn’t play Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan State this season, but, they did run through their schedule undefeated with an average margin of victory of 22.8 this season. The Badgers have the second-best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 12 points per game. Ohio State is giving up a touchdown more per game, but they’re also scoring nearly 10 points more per contest (43.8 to 34.8). The big question with the Buckeyes is whether J.T. Barrett can play at a high level. Barrett is coming off a lingering knee injury that was aggravated last weekend and if he’s not at 100 percent, that limits the effectiveness of Ohio State’s offense.
#7 Miami vs. #1 Clemson (-9.5), Saturday 8:00 p.m. (ABC)
The defending champions are back on top of the rankings just in time for the ACC championship game this Saturday night. Miami is appearing in the ACC Championship game for the first time since joining the conference back in 2004. The teams did not meet in the regular season, so there’s not prior history from this year to draw off of.
Clemson’s offense has relied on a multi-faceted running attack with Bryant, Tavien Feaster, Travis Etienne, Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller all carrying the ball 45 or more times this season. Combine that with a passing attack that has found a new weapon in recent weeks in freshman receiver Tee Higgins to go with the always reliable Hunter Renfrow. It will be fascinating to watch the ball-hawking Hurricanes defense go up against this unit that has turned the ball over just 13 times this season (t-24th best in FBS).
On the flip side, the Clemson defensive front is one of the most aggressive units in the country, piling up 40 sacks (t-2nd) this year. How the Miami offensive line, which is allowing an average of two sacks a game, deals with that will be something to watch.