In college football, polls and rankings are the ultimate seeds of debate. Our Pylon University panel of experts bring you a rundown of national title contenders each week. We’ll be looking at teams, plays, trends, and experiences that make college football great ‒ from Division 3 to FCS to the Power Conferences ‒ along with key CFB weekend matchups.
Pylon University has Playoff Fever. And the only prescription is more Conference Championships. Literally. The Big 12’s last minute shenanigans ‒ declaring that this year a tie won’t be broken, leaving the potential Baylor-TCU deadlock unresolved ‒ is a blatant attempt to get both “co-champions” into the playoff, so long as both finish with wins on Saturday. Settle it on the field! Unlike the SEC, the Big 12 also plays a balanced schedule. This leaves the selection committee with a bad case of “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t” for which there is no cure this year.
Meanwhile, there are no cupcake games this weekend. The Pac-12 Championship at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA features Oregon looking to avenge an early-season loss to Arizona. The ACC Championship at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte pits Florida State against Georgia Tech, the latest challenger to the Seminoles’ 28-game win streak. Wisconsin and Melvin Gordon’s rushing prowess face off against Ohio State and third-string quarterback Cardale Jones in the Big Ten Championship ‒ the only game without direct playoff implications. And lastly, the SEC Championship in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome has Missouri looking to knock off perennial participants Alabama.
For the Group of Five CFP Bowl bid, which goes to the highest-rated champion from the other five conferences, Boise State leads the way and will play Fresno State in the Mountain West Title game. Should the Broncos lose, Northern Illinois or Marshall can jump into the spot with victories.
FCU Staff: A win and Oregon is in the playoff. But to quote Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend.” Quarterback Marcus Mariota is 1-2 in his career against the Wildcats. Of his 23 career turnovers, six have been recovered by Arizona defenders: three fumbles and three interceptions. In their meeting earlier this season the Heisman favorite lost two fumbles, including one on the Ducks’ final drive. If Oregon is going to earn a playoff berth, Mariota will need to exorcise his Wildcat Turnover Demons. An Arizona win, coupled with some help, might get the Wildcats into playoff contention.
Why You Should Watch: An Oregon win likely seals a playoff berth for the Ducks and a Heisman Trophy for Mariota. These are high stakes indeed.
FCU Staff: On paper this looks like a tune-up for the Crimson Tide on the way to the Playoff. Missouri enters their second straight SEC Championship Game with some blemishes on their record, specifically an underwhelming loss to Indiana and a 34-0 drubbing at the hands of Georgia. But the Tigers are on a six-game winning streak and have come up big in key situations en route to securing the SEC East title. Missouri also sports the nation’s 13th best scoring defense, holding opponents to 19.7 points a game. Alabama should win this game, but it won’t be the cakewalk some are predicting.
ACC Championship: (#4) Florida State vs. (#11) Georgia Tech* ‒ 8:00 p.m. (Saturday) ‒ ABC
FCU Staff: The defending national champions are undefeated yet find themselves looking up at three one-loss teams. The Seminoles need a statement victory in the ACC Championship Game to erase doubts created by a season of lackluster victories and off-field turbulence. Unfortunately for Jimbo Fisher and company the Yellow Jackets are not a good matchup for Florida State. Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense is ranked 4th in the nation in rushing, averaging over 330 yards a game. The Seminoles’ defense surrenders over 140 rushing yards per game, 42nd in the nation. This is a recipe for another uninspiring performance from Florida State.
Why You Should Watch: If you have made it this far into the column you probably don’t need a reason to watch this game. But along with the OSU-Wisconsin matchup, FSU vs. Georgia Tech has the smallest spread at 4.5 points.
Big Ten Championship: (#13) Wisconsin vs. (#5) Ohio State* ‒ 8:00 p.m. (Saturday) ‒ FOX
FCU Staff: The selection committee faces a difficult decision with the Buckeyes. A win in the Big 10 Championship Game (along with a little help) and Ohio State can claim they deserve a spot in the final four. But with talented quarterback J.T. Barrett on the shelf for the rest of the season he selection committee would love to avoid a tough judgment call over whether the Buckeyes should be in without their quarterback. Wisconsin can spare them that decision with a win on Saturday. Big 10 leading rusher Melvin Gordon might find room to run against the Buckeyes, who give up over 145 yards per game on the ground.
Why You Should Watch: With the ACC Championship Game on at the same time, put this one on your laptop or iPad and change over if the other game turns into a blowout.
Big 12:Iowa State at (#3) TCU ‒ 12:00 p.m. (Saturday) ‒ ABC
FCU Staff: Style points matter to the selection committee ‒ just ask Florida State. The Horned Frogs and their explosive offense can punch their playoff tickets with a blowout win over the Cyclones. TCU averages over 315 yards per game in the air and over 46 points per game, both top 10 numbers. In Iowa State, they find an opponent that gives up over 37 points per contest. This matchup screams domination.
Why You Should Watch: This might be the time to handle some errands or other real life activities. The game looks to be a blowout and there is better football later in the day.
Big 12: (#9) Kansas State at (#6) Baylor ‒ 7:45 p.m. (Saturday) ‒ ESPN
FCU Staff: The Bears will need a lot of help and a PR firm to sneak into the final four, but a big win over the Wildcats is critical. They have the benefit of TCU playing early, and if the Horned Frogs stumble the Bears will come flying out of the gate. A Kansas State victory coupled with a TCU loss (#teamchaos) would give Kansas State the conference title. Baylor sports the nation’s top scoring offense, while Kansas State gives up 20 points per game, 17th in the nation. Something has to give.
Why You Should Watch: Two top ten teams playing the final week of the season, and one of them might get a playoff bid.
Mountain West Championship: Fresno State at (#22) Boise State ‒ 10 p.m. (Saturday) ‒ CBS
FCU Staff: Boise State jumped into the top 25 for the first time this week, and are the lone Group of Five team ranked. A win over rival Fresno State will put Boise State into a CFP Bowl, probably the Fiesta Bowl, which the Broncos have won twice. Boise beat Fresno 37-27 earlier this season.
Why You Should Watch: It’s high flying Mountain West football, and the second-to-last game of the season. Also, when Boise upsets someone in a bowl game again, you can say you saw them earlier this year and sound smart.
C-USA Championship: Louisiana Tech at Marshall ‒ 12 p.m. (Saturday) ‒ ESPN2
FCU Staff: Marshall slipped out of the top 25 with an overtime loss against Western Kentucky last week, a game that featured 133 total points. The Thundering Herd will need to win and hope for Boise to lose to be considered for the G5 Bowl Bid. The Bulldogs put up 76 points of their own last week, so expect fireworks.
Why You Should Watch: It’s the final game for Marshall QB Rakeem Cato, who has 41 combined TDs and almost 4000 combined yards. Also, the concurrent Iowa State-TCU game will likely be a blowout.
MAC Championship: Northern Illinois vs Bowling Green ‒ 7 p.m. (Friday) ‒ ESPN2
FCU Staff: The third contending G5 team is Northern Illinois. If Boise State slips up, NIU and Marshall are the likely candidates to replace them. The Huskies are riding a six-game win streak, while the Falcons have lost their last two games.
Why You Should Watch: #MACTION, and it’s a nice appetizer for the Pac-12 title game, which has a starting time 2 hours later.
Follow Mark on Twitter @mabrowndog.