Previewing college football championships for Big-10 and more

·7 min read

Previewing college football championships for Big-10 and more originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Ten games, 20 teams. There’s nothing quite like Championship Weekend in college football. 

The top of the card boasts a much-anticipated heavy-weight matchup when the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs take on SEC rival and the No. 3-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon. But don’t sleep on the Group of 5 contests, with the Cincinnati Bearcats looking to emerge from the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and crash the College Football Playoff as this year’s Cinderella. 

College football action starts Friday night with the Conference USA Championship at the Alamodome in San Antonio and doesn’t slow down until Saturday night with the Big-10 Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.   

Here’s how the championship games for the Power 5 conferences might shake out this weekend:  

Pac-12 Championship Game: Oregon vs. Utah 

Time and date: Friday, Dec. 3, at 8 p.m. ET

TV channel: ABC

Location: Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas 

Don’t be fooled by the results from two weeks ago when the Utes (9-3) waxed Oregon 38-7 at home. On a neutral field, the Ducks’ offense should find its footing and regain time of possession -- a stat Utah dominated in their first meeting on Nov. 20 thanks to 200-plus rushing yards.

Oregon (10-2) had its College Football Playoffs dreams dashed in that game. They’re not going to let their Rose Bowl dreams wilt in front of the same team. 

Prediction: Oregon 34, Utah 30 

Big 12 Championship Game: Baylor vs. Oklahoma State

Time and date: Saturday, Dec. 4, at 12 p.m. ET

TV channel: ABC

Location: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

The Cowboys (11-1) enter this battle of top-10 teams as the slightly more motivated squad after a nail-biting win in Bedlam over rival Oklahoma last weekend vaulted them into having a shot at making the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma State also comes in perhaps the more confident team, with a 24-14 win over Baylor (10-2) already in their pocket from earlier this season. 

Could this one be another case of revenge? Nope, Cowboys cruise behind the dual rushing threat of Spencer Sanders and Jaylen Warren.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 27, Baylor 21

SEC Championship Game: Georgia vs. Alabama 

Time and date: Saturday, Dec. 4, at 4 p.m. ET

TV channel: CBS

Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Atlanta 

Heisman front-runner Bryce Young will get a chance to make his case in front of the whole nation when he leads the Crimson Tide (11-1) against a Georgia defense that allowed just 6.9 points per game to opponents.  

While the Bulldogs (12-0) look like an unstoppable force in 2021, their history against the Alabama is a tortured one -- an element that fans know all too well, and could play a role in Saturday’s outcome. 

Look for Georgia to snap its six-game losing streak and complete its destiny as the nation’s top team this regular season. 

Prediction: Georgia 27, Alabama 19

Big 10 Championship Game: Michigan vs. Iowa 

Time and date: Saturday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m. ET

TV channel: FOX

Location: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis 

Georgia’s defense is all the rage entering Championship Week but when all is said and done come Saturday night, Michigan (11-1) might be the unit that’s drawing the most national attention. It’ll be a challenge for Iowa (10-2) to move the ball against Aidan Hutchinson and the Wolverine front seven, and that could leave Kirk Ferentz’ team without many comeback options in the second half. 

Look for Hassan Haskins to lead Michigan’s three-pronged rushing attack as the Wolverines hold onto the ball and play keep away from the Hawkeyes.

Prediction: Michigan 23, Iowa 10

ACC Championship Game: Pittsburgh vs. Wake Forest 

Time and date: Saturday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m. ET

TV channel: ABC

Location: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

Saving the best for last? Not quite as neither of these teams will have a shot at making the College Football Playoff. However, the ACC Championship Game projects to be the highest-scoring contest of the weekend -- and one guaranteed to have the least amount of defensive stops. So punters, please stay home! 

Kenny Pickett is one of the top-ranked QB prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft, and should be expected to shine here for a No. 15-ranked Panthers (10-2) team that finished the year winning eight of their last nine games. The Demon Deacons (10-2) had the complete opposite end to their season -- dropping two of their last four games following a 8-0 start. 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 45, Wake Forest 38

What about the Group of 5? 

The main event for smaller college football programs will be the American Athletic Conference Championship Game between Houston and Cincinnati. Here’s a look at that contest and the four other Group of 5 games this weekend:

AAC Championship Game: Houston vs. Cincinnati 

Time and date: Saturday, Dec. 4, at 4 p.m. ET

TV channel: ABC

Location: Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio

Does Cincinnati control their own destiny ahead of Championship Week? That’s a question only the College Football Playoff Committee can truly answer but the Bearcats (12-0) have set themselves as the first Group of 5 school to crash the big-boy party after running through the AAC.

Standing in their way is a Cougar offense that has scored 30 or more points in eight straight games. It won’t be easy for Cincinnati as Houston also boasts a top-10 run defense (97.9 yards per game), and could lock down Desmond Ridder and the Bearcats dominant ground game.

Prediction: Cincinnati 30, Houston 23  

Conference USA Championship Game: Western Kentucky vs. UTSA

Time and date: Friday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m. ET

TV channel: CBS Sports Network

Location: Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas

This is one of three conference championship games being played in front of a home crowd, and that should give UTSA (11-1) an advantage. And yet, records and short travel can be deceiving come this time of year which is precisely why the Hilltoppers (8-4) are the pick.   

Western Kentucky enters this contest as one of the nation’s hottest teams -- winners of seven in a row. Their last loss was in a 52-46 shootout to the Roadrunners in early October. Expect fireworks -- and some payback -- Friday night. 

Prediction: Western Kentucky 48, UTSA 38

MAC Championship Game: Kent State vs. Northern Illinois

Time and date: Saturday, Dec. 4, at 12 p.m. ET

TV channel: ESPN

Location: Ford Field in Detroit 

The MAC holds the distinction of being the only conference championship game in 2021 not to feature a double-digit winning team. The Golden Flashes (7-5) scored from the 1-yardline on a misdirection play in overtime against Miami (Ohio) last weekend to earn a spot in this game, and therefore are a bit of a Cinderella story themselves -- albeit on a smaller scale.

The Huskies (8-4) lost 52-47 in their regular season contest against Kent State despite having a 500-yard passing day from QB Rocky Lombardi and look to get back on the winning side after falling 42-21 in their final game of the season to Western Michigan.  

Prediction: Kent State 31, Northern Illinois 26

Mountain West Conference Championship Game: Utah State vs. San Diego State 

Time and date: Saturday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. ET

TV channel: FOX

Location: Dignity Health Sporks Park in Carson, Calif. 

San Diego State (11-1) outlasted Fresno State in a competitive West Division in the Mountain West Conference this year, and now draws a Utah State team that has won six of its last seven games.

Aggie QB Logan Bonner could prove to be the difference maker. He threw for 32 touchdowns this season for Utah State (9-3) including five in the team’s regular season finale.  

Prediction: Utah State 28, San Diego State 24

Sun Belt Championship Game: Appalachian State vs. Louisiana 

Time and date: Saturday, Dec. 4, at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV channel: ESPN

Location: Cajun Field in Lafayette, La.

Another contest being played in front of home fans as Louisiana (11-1) will attempt to send coach Billy Napier off with a win before he leaves the program for Florida. 

In the first contest between these two squads, the Ragin Cajuns triumphed easily 41-13. Expect things to be a bit more difficult Saturday when the Mountaineers (10-2) travel south with revenge on their mind.  

Prediction: Appalachian State 34, Louisiana 23

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