The college football season is nearing its end with teams across the country making one final push for a College Football Playoff berth in this weekend’s conference championship games.
Ahead of this weekend’s action, here’s a pick and preview of each Power Five conference title game, including multiple games featuring playoff contenders.
Pac-12 Championship: Washington Huskies vs. No. 15 USC Trojans
Odds: USC -7.5
No Pac-12 team has really been seen as a College Football Playoff contender this season, but the conference championship game will still feature a matchup of teams with one loss between them when the one-loss Washington Huskies take on the undefeated USC Trojans.
USC is looking to prove it belongs in the College Football Playoff conversation by capping off a an undefeated season with a decisive win in the Pac-12 Championship game. The Trojans boast a perfect 5-0 record this season, but three of those wins have come from late-game go-ahead scores against unranked opponents.
Washington enters this game with a 3-1 record on the season, but lost its only game against an opponent with a winning record, falling 31-26 to Stanford in its last contest. The Huskies also enter this game coming off of a long layoff, as they have not seen the field since Dec. 5 due to COVID-19.
Neither of these teams has proven much this season in limited chances, but USC is the stronger team with more to play for. That edge should push the Trojans over the top to get the cover.
Pick: USC -6.5
Big Ten Championship: No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats
Odds: Ohio State -18.5
The Ohio State Buckeyes are just one game away from a berth in this year’s College Football Playoff, but the Northwestern Wildcats are looking to spoil their season and win their first Big Ten championship since 2000.
Ohio State enters this matchup with one of the most high-powered offenses in all of college football. The Buckeye offense ranks No. 4 in the nation with 46.6 points per game and No. 6 with 532.4 yards per game behind Heisman Trophy contender Justin Fields at quarterback and elite receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.
Meanwhile, Northwestern boasts an elite defense that ranks No. 5 in scoring defense, allowing just 15.3 points per game. The Wildcat defense is led by a trio of senior linebackers – Blake Gallagher, Paddy Fisher and Chris Bergin – making it one of the most experienced units in the country.
It will be a strength-on-strength matchup on Saturday afternoon, but the key difference is that Ohio State faced a comparable defense against the Indiana Hoosiers and put up 35 points on offense while Northwestern has not faced an offense anywhere near as dangerous as the Buckeyes. For that reason, Ohio State has the decisive edge in this matchup and should cruise to a victory.
Pick: Ohio State -18.5
Big 12 Championship: No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners vs. No. 7 Iowa State Cyclones
Odds: Oklahoma -4.5
Saturday’s Big 12 Championship game will be a rematch of a narrow regular season matchup, pitting the Oklahoma Sooners against an Iowa State Cyclones team that defeated them 37-30 in early October.
Offensively, the Sooners have been prolific this season, averaging 42.9 points per game – good for No. 9 in the nation. Oklahoma’s early-season struggles were due in large part to lackluster defense. The Sooners gave up an average of 40 points per game against Kansas, Iowa State and Texas, going 1-2 in those games with the only win coming in overtime. Since then, the Sooner defense has been much improved, giving up just 15.6 points per game across its next five contests.
Iowa State has been one of the most well-rounded teams in the country this season. The Cyclones rank in the top-30 nationally in scoring offense, total offense, scoring defense and total defense with a well-balanced offensive attack that averages 241.8 yards through the air and 200 rushing yards per game. In the 37-30 regular season win over Oklahoma, Iowa State made use of big plays, averaging more than 21 yards per completion.
The Cyclones got the better of Oklahoma in the first matchup and have played consistently well following that game, but the Sooners have improved dramatically on the defensive side of the ball. This is not the same Oklahoma team that lost to the Cyclones early in the season, and the Sooners will get the win and the cover in the rematch.
Pick: Oklahoma -5
ACC Championship: No. 3 Clemson Tigers vs. No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Odds: Clemson -11.5
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Clemson Tigers meet in an ACC Championship game rematch of arguably the best game of the regular season where Notre Dame handed Clemson its lone loss of the season in overtime.
Clemson’s offense has been its strength this season. Behind quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne – arguably the top running back and quarterback combo in all of college football – the Tigers rank No. 5 in the country in terms of scoring offense with 45.7 points per game, scoring more than 40 points in seven of their nine games. Even in Clemson’s 47-40 loss to Notre Dame earlier in the season, the Tigers managed to put up 40 points but were unable to slow down Irish quarterback Ian Book or running back Kyren Williams.
While Notre Dame’s strength this season has been its defense, which allows just 17.1 points per game, ranking No. 12 in the country and No. 1 in the ACC, its offense has been strong as well, averaging 37.7 points per game which is good for No. 16 in the nation. It was this offense that was the difference against Clemson last time around, putting up 47 points and over 500 total yards on the Tigers.
The Fighting Irish are the more well-rounded team in this matchup and have shown it all season, even proving so in the win over the Tigers in the regular season. Notre Dame might not win, but it will cover the 7.5-point spread.
Pick: Notre Dame +7.5
SEC Championship: No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. No. 11 Florida Gators
Odds: Alabama -15.5
Saturday night’s SEC Championship game features a battle between high-powered offenses as the Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Florida Gators.
Alabama is the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason. The Crimson Tide is a perfect 10-0 record and have been dominant on both sides of the ball, this season boasting the nation’s best scoring margin, winning its 10 contests by an average of 32.7 points per game. Alabama’s strength is its passing attack, which averages 347.7 yards per game and is led by wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who leads the nation with 1,327 receiving yards and ranks second with 15 touchdown receptions.
Florida, meanwhile, has a prolific aerial attack of its own, leading the nation with 386.4 passing yards per game which have led to 41.2 points per game – good for No. 11 in the nation. The Gators are led by Heisman contender Kyle Trask at quarterback, who ranks No. 2 in the country with 371.1 passing yards per game. Trask has the benefit of throwing to arguably the nation’s best tight end as Kyle Pitts has 641 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in just seven games.
The Crimson Tide have been the most dominant team in college football this season, but they have proved vulnerable to a potent offense, giving up 647 yards and 48 points to Ole Miss earlier in the year. Florida is by far the best offense Alabama has faced this season and should be able to put up points. They might not win, but the Gators will cover the 17.5-point spread.
Pick: Florida +15.5