There's plenty to keep an eye on as conference championship weekend kicks off. Here's what you need to know on the first Saturday in December.
Can the Pac-12 break its playoff drought?
This could actually be the year for the Pac-12 to make the College Football Playoff. It’s hard to see a playoff scenario that leaves out the winner of No. 3 Washington vs. No. 5 Oregon on Friday night in the Pac-12 title game. A win would make the Huskies 13-0 and a lock for a playoff spot. Oregon would be very hard to keep out at 12-1. The Ducks are the top-ranked one-loss team in the CFP rankings. The Pac-12 hasn’t gotten a team into the playoff since Washington made it in 2016, and no matter what, the conference will end its existence with Washington and Oregon as its only two schools to make a playoff.
Georgia meets Alabama for the sixth time in the Kirby Smart era
No. 1 Georgia and No. 8 Alabama meet for the fourth time in four seasons in Saturday’s SEC championship game. Alabama and Nick Saban won the first two matchups by identical 41-24 scores in 2020 and in the 2021 SEC title game, but Georgia and Kirby Smart got their revenge in the national championship a month later with a 33-18 victory. That win catapulted Georgia past Alabama as the team to beat in the SEC as the Bulldogs have won 29 straight games since losing that SEC title game to the Crimson Tide. The national title win over Alabama was also the first time Smart had beaten Saban in five tries.
Florida State's second game without Jordan Travis
College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan said Tuesday night that No. 4 Florida State was a “different team” without star QB Jordan Travis. And while that may be an obvious statement, it’s noteworthy coming from the man who speaks on behalf of the people who pick the four-team playoff field.
Florida State and Tate Rodemaker looked much more comfortable in the second half in a 29-15 win over Florida in Week 13, but it’s hard not to wonder just how good FSU has to look against No. 15 Louisville to ensure a playoff spot with a win. Florida State should simply be in a win-and-in situation. But style points could matter too, especially if Alabama beats Georgia and Texas easily beats Oklahoma State.
How weird will the Big 12 title game be?
No. 7 Texas needs a win over No. 19 Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championship game to have a shot at the College Football Playoff, and we think the game in Arlington has a good chance of being weird. Texas played close games over the second half of the season against Houston, Kansas State and TCU while Oklahoma State has been tough to figure out all season. The Cowboys beat Oklahoma and Kansas State but lost by 26 at home to South Alabama and also lost 45-3 at UCF. Prepare yourself for something unexpected.
How competitive can Iowa make the Big Ten title game?
The biggest point spread of any conference title game is in the Big Ten, where No. 16 Iowa is a 22.5-point underdog to No. 2 Michigan. The total is just 35.5 as oddsmakers do not give Iowa’s offense much chance of scoring a lot of points on Michigan's defense. Iowa’s defense is good enough to keep the Hawkeyes in reach of Michigan — at least for the first half — but it’s hard to see how an Iowa offense that averages 18 points per game and just 4.1 yards per play can move the ball on the best scoring defense in the country.
Tulane aims for back-to-back New Year's Six bowls
Tulane is a win away from its second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl game. The Green Wave need to beat SMU in the AAC title game to become just the third Group of Five program to go to back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl games behind UCF (2017, 2018) and Cincinnati (2020, 2021). Tulane’s only loss this season came to Ole Miss in Week 2 and happened with QB Michael Pratt injured and on the sidelines. Pratt is completing 66% of his passes in 2023 and has thrown 21 TDs to just four interceptions. SMU, meanwhile, is 10-2 in its final year of the AAC before moving to the ACC and enters the title game on an eight-game win streak.
Liberty looks to go 13-0
Liberty is a lot closer than you may realize to getting to a New Year’s Six bowl game. The 12-0 Flames are No. 24 in the College Football Playoff rankings and just two spots behind 11-1 Tulane. Their proximity makes it very possible — and even likely — that Liberty gets the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six if Tulane loses and the Flames beat New Mexico State on Friday night in the Conference USA title game.
MAC title game features 10-win teams
Saturday’s MAC championship game is the first time since 2012 that both participants had at least 10 wins in the regular season. Toledo (11-1) won the West by going 8-0 in conference play. The Rockets’ only loss of the season came on the road to Illinois in Week 1 by two points. Miami (Ohio) is 10-2 and only lost to the Miami Hurricanes in Week 1 and the Rockets in Week 8. Toledo won that matchup 21-17 as star QB DeQuan Finn threw for two TDs and ran for another.
Troy goes for win No. 11 in Sun Belt title game
Troy is a 6.5-point favorite over Appalachian State in the Sun Belt title game as the Trojans attempt to move to 11-2. Troy has won nine straight games after losing to Kansas State and James Madison in back-to-back weeks in September and has won at least 10 games for the fifth time in the last eight seasons. Troy is 22-4 in Jon Sumrall’s two years with the program, and Sumrall will assuredly be a head coach at a Power Five school sooner rather than later.
UNLV tries to win its first Mountain West title
UNLV and Boise State face off for the Mountain West title after computer rankings were called on to determine a three-way tiebreaker between the two teams and San Jose State. UNLV has never won a Mountain West title and 2023 is just its third winning season as a member of the conference. Perennial MWC contender Boise State is trying to win the conference with an interim coach after Andy Avalos was fired in November.