We’re finally into championship week, and if you had Georgia, Michigan, TCU, and USC as the top four teams for the playoffs in August, kudos. Not many people did that – and the locksmith would dare say nobody did. At least not publicly recorded.
The consensus view seems to be that unbeaten Georgia, Michigan and TCU will be playoff-bound no matter how they fare in their league title games. Not so 11-1 USC, who must beat Utah in Friday’s Pac-12 championship game to secure their playoff berth. Utah handed the Trojans their only loss on October 15, turning a game-winning 2-point conversion into a 43-42 win.
When USC falters, Ohio State waits.
On to the games:
USC over Utah with 2 1/2 (Pac-12 championship game, Las Vegas)
From this vantage point, it looks like the Trojans are firing hot – with the defense springing into action to strangle Notre Dame last week. Offensively, Caleb Williams & Co. were unstoppable, with Williams throwing five TD passes (no interceptions) in the 43-42 loss to the Utes on Oct. 15. Utah’s normally strong defense was shredded for 556 yards this game. Don’t see Cameron Rising and Utah keeping up this time. The Trojans look like a much more complete team than they did on October 15th.
TCU over Kansas State by 2 1/2 (Big 12 Championship Game, Arlington)
The line seems a bit suspect, but K-State held an 18-point lead over the Horned Frogs in an eventual 38-28 loss on Oct. 23 in Fort Worth. Will Howard was QB for the Wildcats in that game and is likely to get the call again as Adrian Martinez is still a question with a leg injury. Howard has been a solid addition, with K-State winning six of his seven starts, and the Wildcats’ only three losses have been to Tulane, TCU and Texas (combined records 30-6). But TCU is coming off an unbeaten season for a reason: The Horned Frogs are finding ways to win. It’s a dangerous combination that opposing defenses struggle with: QB Max Duggan has thrown for 3,070 yards and has a 29-to-3 touchdown-to-interception rate, while RB Kendre Miller has 1,260 yards and 16 TDs. Hard to see TCU faltering here.
LSU over Georgia at 17 1/2 (SEC Championship Game, Atlanta)
Scroll to Next
As maddeningly inconsistent as LSU is, this seems too bold a line for a Georgia team that hasn’t exactly impressed in wins over Missouri and Kentucky. Say this for QB Stetson Bennett: He’s a winner. But he’s also had six interceptions this season in just 16 touchdowns, and Georgia’s defense faces a major challenge in Tigers QB Jayden Daniels, a dynamic playmaker who has passed 2,566 yards and leads the team with 824 yards (and 11 TDs). LSU has talent, and you know Brian Kelly will have his team ready after last week’s embarrassing loss at Texas A&M. LSU really has nothing to lose, either, since the Tigers can’t make the playoffs. You can scare Georgia.
Tulane via UCF at 4 (AAC Championship Game, New Orleans)
Tulane not only landed a spot in the championship game, but also home advantage. You can argue that’s no big deal as UCF defeated the Green Wave on Nov. 12 (38-31) in Tulane, with QB John Rhys Plumlee having the game of his life, passing for 132 yards and a score and for 176 rushed and two TDs. But that was then and that is now, and the now for UCF is the Golden Knights lost their last two games to Navy and then needed a miracle touchdown grab in the final seconds to beat 1-11 USF . Tulane QB Michael Pratt was solid in the first meeting between the teams (236 yards passing, three TD passes, no interceptions) and star RB Tyrae Spears rushed for 130 yards. But the Green Wave defense faltered that day – and certainly looked solid again in the 27-24 win in Cincinnati in the season finale.
Clemson via North Carolina with 7 1/2 (ACC Championship Game, Charlotte)
It appears freshman QB Drake Maye – sensational in the first 10 games when he emerged as a Heisman nominee – has hit the wall for the Tar Heels. Maye threw for a season-low 202 yards in a loss to Georgia Tech two games ago (he’s also the team’s leading rusher and only managed 13 rushing yards), then was held to 232 passing yards in an OT loss to NC State. So the guy who passed 35 TDs with five interceptions has one TD pass and two interceptions combined from the last two games. And if the Tar Heels don’t have Maye to light up opposing defenses, they don’t stand a chance with a defense that ranks 117th overall nationally. It’s so bad that even Clemson QB DJ Uiagelelei should benefit. RB Will Shipley definitely will.
Michigan via Purdue at 17 (Big Ten Championship Game, Indianapolis)
Purdue has lost to Syracuse, Wisconsin and Iowa — three mediocre teams at best — with Minnesota and Illinois (with 17 points combined) being the only “quality” wins on the schedule. Everyone saw Michigan’s potential in Ohio State last week. Error-prone Purdue QB Aiden O’Connell (11 interceptions) has never faced such a good defense. Forget Purdue’s reputation as a giant killer in this game. Looks like this one is going to be ugly.
Last week vs spread: 4-2
Season to date vs spread: 37-40-1