Somehow, against all odds, we’ve kinda-sorta made it through fifteen-ish weeks of college football, and now we’re just shambling to the finish. Championship week is upon us, two weeks behind schedule, joined by the island of misfit, makeup football games. We’re just here to talk about the former, hopefully before any crumble to dust. And then we can move on to the bowl games! If any remain, that is.
(No FTRS Bowlstravaganza this year, by the way. With the first bowl scheduled for this Saturday — before it got cancelled, anyway — and the vast majority of bowls still not being set, it just wasn’t happening.)
Only good vibes from last week’s picks. Congrats to RamblerGambler and THWUGA for scoring 5 on the week, and congrats to all of you for scoring at least 2. Most people still got the Commonwealth Cup wrong — simultaneous congratulations and condolences to the Hokies, by the way.
Trystan Snipes still leads overall, and actually increased their lead by 1 after last week’s slate. Y’all have one last shot at the crown with this week’s supersized slate, but if you’re under 31 at this point, you’re done. To the rest of y’all, good luck!
Conference USA Championship: UAB Blazers @ Marshall Thundering Herd (-5)
It should never go unmentioned that Bill Clark stuck with UAB through their death and resurrection and now has the Blazers in their third straight CUSA championship, but I’m pretty sure I wrote a lot on that in last year’s championship picks, so I won’t repeat it. Instead I’ll talk about how before this past Saturday, UAB hadn’t played a football game since Halloween. That’s a bye and four straight cancellations, a streak finally ended when the Blazers got to play Rice. They’ll be facing Marshall, quietly having their best season since their 13-1 campaign in 2014. The Herd raced out to a 7-0 record this year, only to see it come to a shocking end in their last game, a 20-0 loss to..... Rice. See, everyone’s been ignoring Rice, but they’ve been the key to this the whole time.
MAC Championship: Ball State Cardinals vs. Buffalo Bulls (-13.5)
Lance Leipold, mastermind of the D-III dynasty at Wisconsin-Whitewater, continues to quietly kick ass in his sixth year in western New York, bringing Buffalo a level of success they haven’t seen since the 1950s. Now his Bulls are in their second MAC championship in three years, in a rematch of their first ever championship appearance (and only win) back in 2008. Ball State is here after this insane play didn’t win the division for Western Michigan, and have had an unexpectedly successful year under Mike Neu. I looked up Neu, and his only head coaching experience prior to being hired in Muncie was in the Arena Football League, which is the most MAC resume you can have without being in the MAC.
Washington Huskies Oregon Ducks @ #13 USC Trojans (-3)
After an extremely abbreviated Pac-12 season, the championship game is already set, with the two participants having played a grand total of *checks notes* nine games between them. Yes, it’s weird, but at least one side is difficult to argue — USC had a major scare against UCLA last Saturday, but they earned the right to host the Pac-12 championship with just one cancellation and going a perfect 5-0 through the rest of their schedule. (Reminding Trojan faithful of this is like driving another tiny little stake into their collective heart. Try it!) Meanwhile, Washington was supposed to play Oregon last week to decide the Pac-12 South.... but it ended up getting cancelled, so here they are! And if anything goes wrong, the league scheduled the second-place teams, Colorado and Oregon, to play each other, and put that game in LA. So if one or both teams drop out, they’re in and they don’t have to make any last minute travel plans. This is genuinely a genius move by Larry Scott, who should otherwise — as has been noted before — be fired into the sun.
UPDATE: I wrote this on Sunday and it was already out of date by Monday afternoon. Washington is OUT, Oregon is IN. Everything else still apples. Larry Scott, for once, you are a genius.
Big Ten Championship: #14 Northwestern Wildcats vs. #4 Ohio State Buckeyes (-20.5)
Look, you may root for some blue blood, football factory school elsewhere in the country, but is your program important enough that your conference will change its rules to put you in its championship game? The answer to that is “yes” only if you are Ohio State. When it became clear the Buckeyes would be one game short of the minimum number of games necessary to be eligible for the B1G championship, the conference decided the code was more like guidelines than actual rules and named them the winner of the Big Ten East anyway, because obviously they weren’t going to allow Indiana in. Northwestern is back, and their presence is just as hilarious now as it was two years ago. Maybe we should consider the possibility the Big Ten West is just bad? Either way, it’s an undeniable success for the Wildcats and Northwestern, no matter how badly they get smothered by Ohio State.
Pick: Ohio State
Big 12 Championship: #10 Oklahoma Sooners (-5.5) vs. #6 Iowa State Cyclones
It’s really not fair Oklahoma to play an extra game to win a conference championship; after all, the Big 12 plays a full round robin schedule, and even did it this year. And after all the games have been played, you can look at the standings and see that Iowa State tops the table and should be declared champion. That’s not a joke; the Cyclones suffered a season opening loss to Louisiana — which, all things considered, doesn’t seem like that bad a loss — and then went 8-1 in conference play, with OU being one of those 8. Their reward for all that is having to beat the Sooners, again, to win their first conference championship since 1912. Yes, since before the first World War. Oklahoma? All they’ve done is won the last five Big 12 championships.
Pick: Iowa State
Sun Belt Championship: #19 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns @ #12 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (-3.5)
IT’S TIME TO UNLEASH THE FULL RAGE OF THE CAJ’! This top-20 matchup is the biggest Sun Belt game in recent memory, and the Cajuns are looking to finally break through after losing the last two championship games to Appalachian State. Part one was complete when they beat the Mountaineers in Boone a couple weeks back, but part two promises to be even harder. Their opponent this time is Coastal Carolina: undefeated, even with a last minute addition of a game BYU to the schedule, and Louisiana’s only loss on the year — a walk off field goal sealed the win for the Chants back in October. This one’s gonna put the real, unironic “fun” in #FUNBELT.
Pick: Coastal Carolina
ACC Championship: #3 Clemson Tigers (-10.5) vs. #2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
First, it must be noted Clemson is in the ACC championship for the sixth consecutive year, facing its sixth different opponent in that time. (At this point they might just ask to play the Atlantic #2 so they can complete the whole set.) Moving on, we all knew the ACC championship was coming to this ever since the first Clemson-Notre Dame game hit zeros back in October. That game proved Clemson was mortal, but there was a catch: they were down one Trevor Lawrence. He’s back now, and that changes a lot. Watch this game to see if the ACC puts two teams in the playoff, driving every other conference mad, or if Notre Dame wins a conference championship in the one and only year it’s ever in a conference.
Pick: Notre Dame
Mountain West Championship: Boise State Broncos (-6.5) vs. #24 San Jose State Spartans
It was just a couple years ago San Jose State was slumming it in the land of double digit losses, but here they are now, having earned the right to wear the colored jerseys in the Mountain West Championship. Yes, that’s right, for the first time, Boise State did not earn the right to host a championship game it’s participating in. But due to restrictions in the Bay Area, San Jose State is also not hosting. That means the MWC gets the neutral-site championship game in Vegas they always wanted! They’ve beaten the Pac-12 once again.
AAC Championship: #23 Tulsa Golden Hurricane @ #9 Cincinnati Bearcats (-14.5)
Cincinnati and Tulsa were actually scheduled to play each other in their regular season finale last week, but that feels like a blessing in disguise, because who ever wants an instant rematch? Cincy already experienced that just last year, when they lost to Memphis twice in a row. Tulsa? They’re having one of the best seasons in a long time, but they’ve also just been scraping by. A Cincy win puts them in a New Year’s Six bowl for sure at 9-0, and yet they’ll still be ranked far behind Ohio State. Any Ohio State team, ever.
SEC Championship: #1 Alabama Crimson Tide (-17) vs. #7 Florida Gators
Normally in the afternoon slot on championship weekend, the SEC is in prime time this year, baby. That means Florida fans get all day to wait before being completely waxed by Alabama. Have fun!
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