Baker’s Breakdown: College Football Championship Weekend Preview

Championship weekend is upon us. These games bring us lots of familiar faces as well as some new ones. With three of the four Playoff spots up for grabs, the race for the College Football Playoff is up for grabs. Check on my picks for the College Football Playoff ahead of Championship weekend here. Let’s look at the six biggest championship games that will shape postseason play.

Pac 12 Championship: #10 Oregon Ducks vs. # 17 Utah Utes

The Ducks (10-2) will look to win their third straight Pac 12 Championship but will need to beat the team that ended their College Football Playoff hopes to do so. The Utes (9-3) dominated the Ducks 38-7 two weeks ago and will look to do the same Friday night. 

After starting the season 1-2, the Utes finished 8-1. Their turnaround was fueled by the best run game in the Pac 12. The Utes averaged 218.2 rushing yards per game. Running back Tavion Thomas dominated Oregon last time out, going for 94 yards and three touchdowns, and he will look to do it again. The Utes don’t ask quarterback Cameron Rising to do much, but he has been very effective when called upon. He loves to throw to his tight ends. Brant Kuithe is their leading receiver. Kuithe and his tight end partner Dalton Kincaid both lead the team with six receiving touchdowns. 

The Ducks bounced back from a demoralizing loss to the Utes with a 38-29 victory over Oregon State. The Ducks’ winning formula is running the ball. Travis Dye was a 1000 yard rusher and Anthony Brown is always a threat with his legs. Brown has struggled to throw the ball efficiently this season but had a great game against Oregon State. Brown will need to be on top of his performance against the Utes. Expect Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd and defensive end Mika Tafua, who have a combined 16.5 sacks on the year, to be in Brown’s face all game. 

It’s hard to pick against the Utes after their performance two weeks ago, but I’m going to do just that. I expect Mario Cristobal and the Ducks to make the adjustments necessary to send the Ducks to their second Rose Bowl in three years.

Prediction: Ducks 31, Utes 28

ACC Championship: #16 Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs. #15 Pittsburgh Panthers

The Demon Deacons (10-2) take on the Panthers (10-2) in a matchup between two of the biggest surprise teams in the country. Wake Forest will look to win its first ACC Championship game since 2006 while Pittsburgh will look to win its first all-time. 

Panthers’ quarterback Kenny Pickett is one of the best in the country. He is fifth in the country in passing yards and second in passing touchdowns with 40. Their air-raid offense is one of the best in the country. Wide receiver Jordan Addison has been nearly unguardable this season. He is fourth in the nation with 1,353 receiving yards and first with 17 touchdowns. Don’t expect the Demon Deacons to have much success slowing him down. Although their pass defense is better than their rush defense, as a whole the Demon Deacons haven’t stopped many teams this season. 

The Demon Deacons, too, have a great quarterback. Sam Hartman has 34 passing touchdowns on the year and added 10 on the ground. The Demon Deacons have some dynamic receivers too. Both AT Perry and Jaquarii Roberson are thousand-yard receivers on the season. The Panthers’ defense isn’t fantastic either, but their front seven is scary. They have 46 sacks on the year which is second in the nation. If Hartman doesn’t get the ball out quickly, the Demon Deacons could struggle to move the ball. 

In a matchup between two teams that average over 40 points per game, I’m taking the team with the better quarterback.

Prediction: Panthers 42, Demon Deacons 35

AAC Championship: #4 Cincinnati Bearcats vs. #21 Houston Cougars

The Bearcats (12-0) will look to become the first Group of 5 team to make the College Football Playoff. A win Saturday should clinch a spot in the Playoff for the Bearcats, but they will need to beat the Cougars (11-1), winners of 11 in a row to do so.

Four-year starter Desmond Ridder is having the best season of his career. The Bearcats quarterback has thrown for a career-high 27 touchdowns and has added six on the ground. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and will hear his name called in next year’s NFL Draft. Wide receiver Alec Pierce, Ridder’s favorite target, is a dangerous threat on the outside and has seven touchdowns on the year. On the ground, look for Jerome Ford to make an impact. The Cougars have a top 10 defense and are third in the nation with 43 sacks. The Cougs have one of the best turnover margins in the country and will look to force turnovers against a Bearcats team that has struggled to hold onto the ball this season. 

After dropping their first game of the season, the Cougars haven’t lost. Quarterback Clayton Tune is having a breakout season. He has 26 touchdowns on the year. When he drops back to pass, expect him to throw in the direction of wide receiver Nathaniel Dell. Dell has more than double the receptions, yards, and touchdowns of the second leading receiver in those categories. Stoping the Tune-Dell connection will be the focus for the Bearcats’ top 10 defense. Look for cornerback Coby Bryant to shadow Dell. He has three interceptions on the year.  

I expect the Bearcats to come out motivated with a spot in the Playoff on the line. 

Prediction: Bearcats 28, Cougars 24

Big 12 Championship: #5 Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. #9 Baylor Bears

The Cowboys (11-1) take on the Bears (10-2) as both teams look to win their first Big 12 championship game in school history. These teams played back in week 5 when Oklahoma State won 24-14 and they will look for a repeat performance in order to, hopefully, spring them into the College Football Playoff. The Pokes are on the outside looking in right now, but a win Saturday would significantly boost their chances of jumping into the top four.

The Cowboys have won this season with a powerful run game and a strong defense. Oklahoma State’s offense isn’t super explosive, but they are productive nonetheless. Running back Jaylen Warren has over 1,100 yards rushing on the season and quarterback Spencer Sanders can run too. When Sanders does throw, look for Tay Martin to make some plays. The Bears’ defense is talented too. Linebackers Terrel Bernard and Dillon Doyle will need to make big plays stopping the run. 

Baylor, as well, has made a living this year off running the ball. They average 227 rushing yards per game, which is top 10 in the nation. Running backs Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner will attack a great Cowboys defense. Don’t expect quarterback Gerry Bohanon to throw the ball much. He only averages 21 pass attempts per game and passing the ball will be difficult against the best defense in the Big 12. Baylor will need to stay ahead of the chains in order to prevent obvious passing situations which will allow Oklahoma State’s pass rushers to get after Bohanon. 

The Cowboys held the Bears to a season-low 107 rushing yards last time these teams played. They will shut down Smith and Ebner and win the game. 

Prediction: Cowboys 24, Bears 17

Big 10 Championship: #2 Michigan Wolverines vs. #13 Iowa Hawkeyes

The Wolverines (11-1) will look to win their first Big 10 title since 2004. A win over the Hawkeyes (10-2) would also propel them into the College Football Playoff for the first time in school history. 

Michigan is fresh off its first win over Ohio State in 10 years and will look to keep the momentum going against the Hawkeyes. Their offense is led by running backs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. Haskins is fresh off a 169 yard, five-touchdown performance against Buckeyes and will look to repeat that against the Hawkeyes. Iowa only gives up about 105 yards per game on the ground so doing so might be tough for Haskins. When Wolverine quarterback Cade McNamara does throw the ball expect him to spread it around. Ten different Wolverines have 10 catches on the season. 

Iowa was written off in the Big 10 after dropping two straight in the middle of the season but won four straight to end the season to clinch a spot in the title game. Their offense isn’t very good and relies on their defense giving them good field position in order to score. Iowa has the third-best turnover margin in the country and will need to generate turnovers to help out their poor offense. The one bright spot for the Hawkeyes’ offense is running back Tyler Goodson. He has 1,101 yards rushing and will need to have a big game if the Hawkeyes want to win. Quarterback Spencer Petras has been awful this year and should struggle against the Wolverines with Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo in his face all game. The duo has 24 sacks on the season. 

This game should be close early, but Iowa won’t be able to contain Haskins, Hutchinson, or Ojabo all game. 

Prediction: Michigan 28, Iowa 13

SEC Championship: #1 Georgia Bulldogs vs. #3 Alabama Crimson Tide

The Bulldogs (12-0) have all but clinched a spot in the College Football Playoff, but will look to just about knock the Crimson Tide (11-1) out of Playoff contention in the SEC Championship. Bama is currently ranked in the top four, but they will need to beat the best team in the country to stay there. 

Georgia has looked like the best team in the country all season. They have the best defense I have seen in years. They give up 6.9 points per game and have allowed just eight offensive touchdowns all year. On the other side of the ball, they are equally as talented. Quarterback Stetson Bennett is skilled, but their offense runs through their ground game. Zamir White and James Cook are the lead backs, but lots of players get touches. When Bennett steps back to pass he will look for tight end Brock Bowers most frequently. Bowers leads the team with 10 receiving touchdowns. Georgia may have the more well-known defense in this matchup, but Bama possesses lots of defensive talent too. Linebacker Will Anderson Jr. and linemen Phidarian Mathis will look to slow up the Dawgs. 

The Georgia defense will have the task of stopping Heisman trophy favorite Bryce Young. Young has 40 touchdowns to only four interceptions this year. He has been tasked with carrying the offense this season as Alabama’s run game has really struggled. To make matters worse, running back Brian Robinson Jr. is dealing with a lower-body injury that leaves his status for the game up in the air. Young will target star wide receivers Jameson Williams and John Metchie III often throughout the game. Young will need to play the best game of his career if he wants to score on Georgia’s star-studded defense. 

I don’t see anyone stopping Georgia. 

Prediction: Bulldogs 34, Crimson Tide 24

Liam Baker
Student at the University of Oregon. Author at The Sports Wave.

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