College Football Picks: Searching for upsets to scramble CFP

RALPH D. RUSSO

Championship weekend rarely produces the type of upsets that throw the national championship race into turmoil.

Heading into this year’s slate of conference title games, a case could be made that No. 1 LSU (No. 2 CFP), No. 2 Ohio State (No. 1 CFP) and No. 3 Clemson (No. 3 CFP) have all done enough already to get into the College Football Playoff even if they lose this weekend.

That’s no fun.

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We remember major upsets such as Kansas State over Oklahoma in the Big 12 in 2003, LSU knocking Tennessee out of a chance to play for a BCS title in the 2001 SEC title game and Michigan State’s victory against Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten championship that cost the Buckeyes a BCS title game appearance.

Memorable, but infrequent. Championship weekend is typically chalky.

In four of the five seasons of the playoff, a team ranked in the top four heading into championship weekend did not reach the playoff, but usually it has not been because of an upset.

Last year, Georgia was in the same position it is in this year: No. 4 going into the SEC title game as an underdog (Alabama last year, LSU this year). The Bulldogs put up a good fight against the Tide, but lost and got the boot for Oklahoma.

In 2017, Wisconsin was undefeated and fourth heading into the Big Ten championship game, where it lost to Ohio State, which had lost twice but was a 6 ½-point favorite over the Badgers. That opened the door for Alabama to get the fourth spot without winning its conference.

In 2016, championship weekend only changed the order of the top four slightly, not the teams.

In 2015, Iowa was unbeaten and fourth but lost to Michigan State, which was fifth, in the Big Ten title game. The Spartans moved up and into the playoff.

The biggest swing game on championship weekend came in the first year of the playoff. Ohio State, a 4-point underdog after quarterback J.T. Barrett was injured against Michigan, beat Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten championship game in 2014. The committee jumped the Buckeyes from fifth to fourth, snubbing co-Big 12 champions TCU and Baylor, which were both 11-1. TCU was dropped from third to sixth and Horned Frogs fans have still not gotten over it.

Will an upset toss the committee a curve this year?

The picks:

FRIDAY

No. 5 Utah (minus 6½) vs. No. 13 Oregon, Pac-12 championship at Santa Clara, California

Utes have not defeated a ranked team yet; It would probably help if they not only win, but do so comfortably ... UTAH 28-17.

SATURDAY

No. 1 LSU (minus 7½) vs. No. 4 Georgia, SEC championship at Atlanta

The best offense in the SEC (LSU) vs. the best defense (Georgia) ... LSU 35-24.

No. 2 Ohio State (minus 16) vs. No. 10 Wisconsin, Big Ten championship at Indianapolis

Which Buckeye will head to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist? Or Buckeyes? ... OHIO STATE 38-17.

No. 3 Clemson (minus 28) vs. No. 22 Virginia, ACC championship at Charlotte, North Carolina

Tigers come in having won seven straight by at least 31 points ...CLEMSON 45-14.

No. 6 Oklahoma (minus 8) vs. No. 8 Baylor, Big 12 championship at Arlington, Texas

Sooners looking for their fifth straight Big 12 title ... BAYLOR 31-28.

No. 16 Memphis (minus 8½) vs. No. 21 Cincinnati, AAC championship

Tigers go for the sweep against the Bearcats after beating them last week ... MEMPHIS 38-28.

No. 19 Boise State (minus 13½) vs. Hawaii, MWC championship

Broncos looking for third title game victory in fourth appearance ... BOISE STATE 42-24.

Louisiana-Lafayette (plus 6½) at No. 20 Appalachian State, Sun Belt championship

Rematch of last season’s first Sun Belt title game ... LOUISIANA 24-23.

UAB (plus 7½) at Florida Atlantic, Conference USA championship

Owls trying to make it two C-USA titles in three seasons under coach Lane Kiffin ... FAU 34-21.

Miami (Ohio) (plus 6½) vs. Central Michigan, MAC championship at Detroit

Former Florida coach Jim McElwain has taken Central Michigan from 1-11 last year to a victory away from its first MAC title since 2009 ... CENTRAL MICHIGAN 33-24.

___

Last week: 21-3 straight; 10-14 against the spread.

Season: 249-65 straight; 172-130-9 against the spread.

Upset specials: 3-11 (straight up).

Best bets: 6-6-1 (against the spread).

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