Tailgate Pick ‘Em Championship Week Edition Including Miami-Clemson

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Conference championship games start Friday night and conclude on Saturday. The college football playoff is on the line for a handful of teams, while conference supremacy remains the hope for others this weekend. Our team of Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, Mike Loveall, and Brett Margolies take you through the ACC, SEC, BIG 10, PAC-12, BIG 12, AAC, MAC, MWC, C-USA, and Sun Belt championship games.

P5 Championship Games

#12 Stanford vs. #10 USC (Friday 8:00 P.M. in Santa Clara, CA)
Line: USC by 3

Steen: When two great teams face off you have to go with the previous H2H winner. Both USC and Stanford are on hot streaks and earned their way into this game but USC won the h2h matchup earlier in the season and they remain the more talented team. Stanford will battle hard but should come up short. USC 35, Stanford 28

Mike: After another shaky first half of the season, including a disaster of a loss on the road to Notre Dame, USC has found their stride late in the 2017 campaign. This is reminiscent of what they did last season. It is hard to beat a team twice in one season, but the Trojans were awfully dominant against the Cardinal in Week 2. And that was with the Cardinal coming off of a bye week. Stanford has played for survival over the last few weeks, and I’m not confident that they can keep the physical and mental energy up – especially after a short week. With neither team likely in the CFP picture, USC should come into this game as relaxed as they can be. USC 28, Stanford 24

John: It’s only fitting that these two teams meet in Santa Clara for the Pac-12 title. They both come into Friday’s game playing the best football of any team in the conference. Stanford’s won eight of their last nine with their only loss coming by just a field goal to Washington State. USC is unbeaten in four with an average margin of victory of 15.5 points in those games.

If you look at common opponent, you might be inclined to ignore the fact the Trojans are favored. Notre Dame trounced USC earlier in the year yet Stanford comprehensively beat the Irish in last week’s regular season finale. But this is a different Trojan team. Sam Darnold is much more consistent than he was earlier in the year. And the bye they had last week may give them the edge they need to win their first conference title since 2008. USC 31, Stanford 24

Yesh: It’s hard to beat a team twice in one season. Stanford has improved drastically since September and will want to fix their embarrassing loss to USC. Give me Bryce Love running all over USC. The defense will get their revenge, too. Stanford 41, USC 21

Brett: I don’t think their last meeting on September 9th will be indicative to how this game goes on Friday. Last time out the Trojans won handily 42-24 at home. Since then, Stanford running back Bryce Love has made a name for himself and continues to put up big numbers every week. I think Sam Darnold will impress once again on the big stage, in what will most likely be his last Pac 12 game as a Trojan. USC 31, Stanford 24

#11 TCU vs. #3 Oklahoma (Saturday 12:30 P.M. in Arlington, TX)
Line: Oklahoma by 7

Steen: Oklahoma won the h2h matchup not long ago, and Baker Mayfield remains one of the best players in College Football. With the OU defense trending up, I’m not sure what TCU you can do to change the result this time. Oklahoma 31, TCU 21

Mike: Baker Mayfield and the Sooners are playing maybe as well as anyone in the country. As with the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Big 12 Championship Game features a rematch. With Kenny Hill regressing to his mean, TCU will have trouble keeping up with the high octane Sooner offense. The first game, four weeks ago, wasn’t really as close as the 18-point spread indicated. Oklahoma secures a CFP spot with this win. Oklahoma 38, TCU 20

John: For the first time since 2010, the Big 12 is staging a championship game. Back then, Oklahoma defeated Nebraska who has since bolted for the Big Ten. With a win against TCU on Saturday, it’ll mark the sixth straight time the Sooners have won a conference title game it’s played in dating back to 2004. Expectations are for them to do after whipping the Horned Frogs 38-20 on November 11.

Antics aside, Baker Mayfield continues to make his case he’s the frontrunner for the Heisman. He’s gone three straight games without an interception and in last week’s win against West Virginia became just the second player in FBS to eclipse 4,000 passing yards in 2017. The Sooners are also the only team in the conference averaging over 200 rushing yards per game. Long story short: I’m not banking on TCU causing CFP chaos. Oklahoma 38, TCU 23

Yesh: Oklahoma dominated TCU on both sides of the ball the last time these two met. The Playoff committee has disrespected Oklahoma all season, so Baker Mayfield is going to cement his Heisman and a Playoff berth with an absolute statement. Oklahoma 45, TCU 13

Brett: Heisman frontrunner Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma have a chance to book their place in the CFB playoffs on Saturday. Oklahoma won their previous meeting against TCU a couple weeks ago, but TCU senior quarterback Kenny Hill can be dangerous against a team who has a lot to play for. Even though Oklahoma is the better team, conference championship week always provides some quality upsets and I think this will be one of them. TCU 34, Oklahoma 31

#6 Georgia at #2 Auburn (Saturday 4:00 P.M. in Atlanta, GA)
Line: Auburn by 2.5

Steen: Georgia is playing in Atlanta and should put on a better account for themselves than they did in Auburn, that said, Kerryon Johnson is my Heisman choice for a reason, and Jarrett Stidham is the perfect partner for him. I don’t know how Georgia is going to fix their offensive line woes and prevent the Auburn defense from keeping their runners boxed up. Auburn 28, Georgia 21

Mike: A third rematch for the Championship Weekend has Georgia trying to avenge their demolition at Auburn. Atlanta is not exactly a home game for Georgia, as Auburn is not too much further from the Peach State capital than Athens. It’s awfully hard to see how Georgia’s passing game will be able to free up some space for their talented runners. And Auburn handled Alabama comfortably last week. Two points? Bank it. Auburn 31, Georgia 17

John: Most observers looked at Auburn as the third-best team in the SEC the last time these two sides met. But the Tigers routed Georgia that day, then proceeded to handle Alabama two weeks later. Now, they’re a surefire lock to make the CFP if they can upend the Bulldogs for the second time this year. Of course, so is their opponent on Saturday in the event they avenge that 40-17 defeat on November 11.

Doing so requires a much better effort at the line of scrimmage. Last time around, Auburn held Georgia’s SEC-leading rushing attack to a paltry 46 yards on the ground. At the same time, they gashed the Bulldogs for 237 rushing yards themselves. But in Atlanta, the Tigers may be without their talisman in the backfield, Kerryon Johnson, who suffered a shoulder injury against Bama. Expect a closer game than their last meeting with Auburn still able to prevail. Auburn 24, Georgia 20

Yesh: Auburn dominated Georgia the last time these two teams played. I have no idea why this line is so low. Unless Jake Fromm has learned how to throw a better deep ball in the last month, this result will be the exact same. Auburn will shut down the running game and Georgia won’t be able to do anything on offense. Auburn 35, Georgia 7

Brett: Auburn has shown they have the ability to win big at home this year including a 40-13 win over Georgia earlier this month. Since the loss, the bulldogs have bounced back nicely defeating Kentucky, and Georgia Tech in dominant fashion. Playing in Atlanta has to give Georgia a little bit of an edge, I could see Sony Michel, and Nick Chubb presenting issues to Auburn’s defense as Georgia wins their first SEC championship since 2005. Georgia 27, Auburn 24

#7 Miami at #1 Clemson (Saturday 8:00 P.M. in Charlotte, NC)
Line: Clemson by 9.5

Steen: Miami has had a fantastic season, but after a poor game against Pitt last week, and the loss of WR Ahmmon Richards to injury, they are clear underdogs against Clemson, who should also have a bit of homefield advantage playing not far from their home base. The Miami defense should keep this a game, but I’m not sure how Miami is going to score enough to win. Clemson should reach the playoff yet again and continue their dominance of the ACC. Clemson 31, Miami 20

Mike: This is the most intriguing match-up, at least for me, for this week. Clemson was the dominant top team in this week’s Last Word on College Football Top 25, but they’ve shown some vulnerabilities this season. Miami has lived on the edge all season, but risen to the occasion when they needed to; save last week’s loss at Pittsburgh. Still, I think this is the one conference championship game where the underdog has the best chance to cover but little chance to win. Clemson 27, Miami 20

John: Mind-blowing fun fact of championship week: this is Miami’s first ever appearance in the ACC title game since joining the conference in 2003. It’s concomitantly a sign of how far they’d fallen since their dominant years as well as how quickly Mark Richt’s revived the program. The ‘Canes are 19-4 during Richt’s two seasons in charge. But they come into Saturday night’s clash in Charlotte having suffered an upset loss at Pittsburgh to end the nation’s longest winning streak at 15.

On the other side of the coin, Clemson is arguably college football’s hottest team. It’s a major factor in them being ranked number one in the CFP rankings. Another is the fact they have more top 25 wins than any other team in the nation. This is quarterback Kelly Bryant’s biggest game since taking over for Deshaun Watson. If he can avoid falling prey to Miami’s fearsome defensive front, the Tigers will return to the CFP for the third straight year. Clemson 34, Miami 17

Yesh: Miami has struggled in a lot of games this season. The Hurricanes played great against Notre Dame, but that win doesn’t look so great anymore. Maybe this really just is an above-average team that used a heck of a lot of luck to stay undefeated through ten games. Clemson, meanwhile, is very quietly the absolute best team in the country. Clemson 31, Miami 10

Brett: After a lackluster performance last week at Pitt the Hurricanes need to get back to form quickly. I think this game has the potential to get ugly. Clemson looked great in their road win at South Carolina, and Miami regressed with an embarrassing loss. The loss of Ahmmon Richards will hurt Miami, I think they’ll struggle to put up points as the tigers win comfortably. Clemson 31, Miami 17

#8 Ohio State at #4 Wisconsin (Saturday 8:00 P.M. in Indianapolis, IN)
Line: Ohio State by 5.5

Steen: Wisconsin has not played a tough schedule, but they have won every game, while Ohio State has two losses. Buckeye QB J.T. Barrett will be a gametime decision for this talented Ohio State team and they have the pieces to win this game. That said, Wisconsin knows who they are, this is a tough, run first team, and they will find enough lanes and holes in the Ohio State defense to get their ground game going. An underappreciated defense will stifle Ohio State enough for the Badgers to secure a playoff berth. Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 17

Mike: Wisconsin might be the most underrated team in the nation. They have the ability to simply wear team downs. They certainly don’t have the athletes, playmakers, or speed of other teams, but they do have heart and all they do is win. For the Buckeyes, consistency – especially on offense – is key. They’ve looked great at times this season, and they’ve looked awful at times as well. Wisconsin is not a team that will allow you to make too many mistakes. I’m going with slow and steady in Indy. Wisconsin 28, Ohio State 27

John: Wisconsin is arguably the Rodney Dangerfield of college football this year: they don’t get no respect. Despite being the only unbeaten team among Power Five schools, the Badgers just slipped into the CFP top four this week and are underdogs against a two-loss Ohio State team. And one of those losses came in embarrassing fashion to Iowa who Wisconsin throttled 38-14.

The Buckeyes also have question marks at quarterback after J.T. Barrett suffered a knee injury against Michigan after colliding with a cameraman on the sideline. The record setting signal caller is probable for Saturday’s contest, but likely won’t be 100 percent. OSU is a few years removed from destroying Wisconsin en route to sneaking into the playoff where they later won it all. But they have their work cut out for them against the Badgers’ dominant rushing attack led by the nation’s third-leading rusher in Jonathan Taylor. Wisconsin 27, Ohio State 24

Yesh: Last time the Buckeyes needed a big win in the Big Ten Championship Game to make the Playoff, they beat up on Wisconsin 59-0. This year’s Wisconsin team is a lot better, though, and has been more consistent than the Buckeyes. Ohio State is more talented, but also more error-prone. I think this will be a close game that goes down to the absolute wire. Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 30

Brett: Wisconsin has rolled through the regular season, and people (including myself) just don’t see the badgers as a serious threat. Jonathan Taylor needs 120 yards to break the NCAA freshman rushing yard record held by Adrian Peterson. I think the buckeye defense shut’s him down and manages to get by in what should be a close game. The committees job won’t be any easier on Sunday after top teams fall. Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 20

G5 Championship Games

#20 Memphis at #14 UCF for the AAC Championship
Line: UCF by 7

Steen: Memphis can hang offensively but their defense is suspect. UCF is under the most pressure, but assuming they can deal with the fact their coach Scott Frost is going to be leaving soon for Nebraska they should find a way to win this game at home. UCF 45, Memphis 35

Mike: This matchup will look totally different than the first meeting between these two teams, as Memphis is playing much better, lead by Riley Ferguson and UCF is coming off the emotional high of an instant classic in the War On I-4 last week. UCF 41, Memphis 38

John: The conference’s two most prolific passers will be on full display in Orlando with Memphis’ Riley Ferguson and UCF’s McKenzie Milton top two among AAC quarterbacks in passing yards and quarterback rating. Ultimately, UCF prevails on their way to the Peach Bowl. UCF 45, Memphis 34

Yesh: UCF beat Memphis down the last time these two met, but the Knights have slipped a bit since then. I think they finish the perfect season, but just barely. UCF 37, Memphis 34

Brett: Tuesday’s CFB playoff rankings just showed how underrated this UCF team is. Their SOS is obviously weak, but having 3 loss Stanford ahead of them doesn’t make much sense. I think the Knights feel disrespected by the lack of respect they’ve received so far this year and this game has the makings of a blowout. They defeated Memphis 40-13 in September, and I think this will look similar to that game. UCF 51, Memphis 30

Akron vs. Toledo for the MAC Championship
Line: Toledo by 20

Steen: I think pretty highly of Toledo, and Akron is much closer to an average team at best. Logan Woodside should dominate and give the Rockets the gift of a conference title. Toledo 52, Akron 28

Mike: Another rematch that will be closer. Terry Bowden is no stranger to the big stage and Akron punches up in this game. Toledo 31, Akron 24

John: Toledo’s Logan Woodside and Terry Swanson lead the MAC on a per game basis in passing and rushing yards respectively. They face an Akron team ranked 89th in total defense. Bad combination. Toledo 41, Akron 17

Yesh: Toledo has been the MAC’s most consistent program for decades, but hasn’t won a conference title since 2004. That changes, finally. Toledo 55, Akron 21

Brett: After an unexpected loss to Ohio, Toledo has looked impressive in back to back games putting themselves in a good a spot in Saturday’s MAC championship game. They had no trouble against Akron earlier in the year, and I’d expect the same on Saturday. Senior quarterback Logan Woodside has a ton of records for the rockets, look for him to put up big numbers again. Toledo 41, Akron 17

North Texas at FAU for the C-USA Championship
Line: FAU by 11.5

Steen: The Lane Train should win at home against a North Texas team that has a shaky defense, capping off a special season for the Owls. FAU 38, North Texas 21

Mike: Two potent offenses collide with the most unlikely matchup of Conference Championship Weekend. FAU 35, North Texas 31

John: Lane Kiffin will need to take time off from his newly found status as the biggest Twitter troll among college football head coaches and give Devin Singletary the ball against North Texas’ 104th ranked rush defense. FAU 34, North Texas 20

Yesh: The Lane Train keeps on rolling. FAU is impressive on both sides of the ball. FAU 42, North Texas 21

Brett: After an unimpressive 19 point win for the Owls last week, I think Lane Kiffin will have them ready to play as FAU tries to win their first ever CUSA title. The owls put up 804 yards of offense the last time they played in October. I don’t think this will be as bad, but I think Lane Kiffin and the owls win once again for the 9th straight time. FAU 41, North Texas 27

Troy at Arkansas State for the Sun Belt Championship*
Line: Arkansas State by 1

Steen: Troy is the more talented team and although this is a tough road game, they should find a way to win. Troy 27, Arkansas State 24

Mike: I don’t know if Arkansas State’s home field advantage is enough to overcome a more talented Troy team. Troy 28, Arkansas State 24

John: It’s strength against strength in this de facto Sun Belt title game. Arkansas State ranks top-15 nationally in total offense while Troy is top 20 in total defense. I’m going cliché here in saying defense wins championships. Troy 26, Arkansas State 20

Yesh: The winner of this game clinches at least a share of the Sun Belt. Troy is slightly better, but I’ll go with Arkansas State at home. Arkansas State 31, Troy 28

Brett: Troy is coming in to this game on a five game winning streak. Besides a 19-8 loss to South Alabama the trojans are having a great year. Their defense against Arkansas State’s offense makes for an intriguing game. The red wolves have put up almost 40 points per game this season including 67 last week, look for them to score big again. Arkansas State 45, Troy 38

#25 Fresno State at Boise State for the MWC Championship
Line: Boise State by 8.5

Steen: Fresno won last week, and even though Boise played poorly and they were on the road in that matchup, I don’t see them improving massively to the point they can overturn the result at home. Don’t sleep on Jeff Tedford’s bulldogs. Fresno State 35, Boise State 31

Mike: These two teams just played last week, with Fresno winning 28-17. This time it won’t be in sunny southern California, it’ll be in cold and chilly Boise. Boise State 28, Fresno State 27

John: Jeff Tedford’s done a phenomenal job rebuilding Fresno State in his first season as Bulldogs’ head coach. It included last week’s upset of Boise State in the regular season finale. But that came at home. A week later on the blue turf, the Broncos get revenge. Boise State 30, Fresno State 21

Yesh: Boise State came out flat in last week’s irrelevant game, and now gets to exact revenge on the blue turf. Boise State 38, Fresno State 17

Brett: You don’t see this too often, Fresno State and Boise State are playing in consecutive weeks. Jeff Tedford has the bulldogs playing well, I think they’ll win their second game in as many weeks against the broncos. Fresno State 27, Boise State 20

*defacto

 

 

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