Power Five conference championship game previews, picks against the spread

Nick Bromberg and Sam Cooper
·7 min read

Welcome to conference championship week.

With the College Football Playoff rankings set to be revealed on Sunday, all that’s left to do is play some of most pivotal games of what has been an unprecedented 2020 season. There’s plenty on the line from Clemson’s ACC title streak to Ohio State’s CFP pursuit to Iowa State’s chance to win a conference title for the first time in more than 100 years.

The Power Five title games began with Oregon winning the Pac-12 crown on Friday before a Saturday that should be filled with action from early in the day until late into the night. Let’s go!

(Note: All times ET, point spreads/totals from BetMGM)

ACC: No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 3 Clemson

Time: 4 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Clemson -10.5 | Total: 60.5

How these teams got here

Notre Dame (10-0): The Irish have cruised through most of the regular season. The 12-7 win over Louisville was a slog, but games like that are going to happen over the course of a season and there wasn’t a time in that win where Notre Dame felt like it was in danger of a loss. And you know about that win over Clemson at this point. It solidified the legitimacy of the Irish’s playoff candidacy.

Clemson (9-1): Eight of Clemson’s nine wins have come by three scores or more. The closest win the Tigers have had came in a 34-28 victory over Boston College. That was the Tigers’ first game without Trevor Lawrence as he missed both that game and the Notre Dame game because of COVID-19. Clemson hasn’t had any scares since Lawrence returned.

What’s on the line

Notre Dame: What’s more 2020 than Notre Dame winning an ACC title? The Irish joined up with the ACC as Power Five conferences moved to conference-only schedules and it’ll be the perfect cap for this bizarre year if college football’s most famous independent team wins a conference title. Notre Dame can also reach the CFP for the second time in the last three seasons.

Clemson: A Clemson win means six consecutive ACC titles for the Tigers and seven overall. Clemson has lost just once in the ACC title game. That came in 2009 when the Tigers lost to Georgia Tech. It would also clinch Clemson’s sixth straight trip to the CFP.

Players to know

Notre Dame RB Kyren Williams: 180 carries, 1,011 yards, 12 TDs; 24 receptions, 268 yards, 1 TD

Clemson RB Travis Etienne: 148 carries, 758 yards, 12 TDs; 41 receptions, 512 yards, 6 TDs

Picks: Nick: Notre Dame +10.5, Sam: Notre Dame +10.5

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 07: Running back Travis Etienne #9 of the Clemson Tigers catches a pass as defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defends in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on November 7, 2020 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images)
Clemson lost to Notre Dame 47-40 in double-overtime in South Bend on Nov. 7. (Photo by Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images)

Big 12: No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 6 Iowa State

Time: Noon | TV: ABC | Line: Oklahoma -5.5 | Total: 57.5

How these teams got here

Oklahoma (7-2): OU shockingly lost its first two Big 12 games to Kansas State and Iowa State, but has since reeled off six consecutive wins. While the offense under freshman QB Spencer Rattler hit its stride as the season progressed, the Sooners’ defense has been the stronger side of the ball in 2020.

Iowa State (8-2): Iowa State also shook off a surprising early season loss. ISU dropped its home opener against Louisiana (a team now ranked No. 19), but then went 8-1 in Big 12 play to clinch the conference regular season title. Breece Hall leads the nation in rushing with 1,357 yards and will likely receive some Heisman votes.

What’s on the line

Oklahoma: Oklahoma has won five consecutive Big 12 titles and is looking for No. 6. A win would also lock up a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game, likely the Cotton Bowl.

Iowa State: This has already been a historic season for Iowa State, and it can get even better with a win over the Sooners. ISU hasn’t won a conference title since 1912. Yes, 1912. At No. 6 in the CFP rankings, a spot in the top four isn’t impossible but it’s pretty unrealistic. Two wins over Oklahoma, a Big 12 title and a trip to the Cotton Bowl would still be a triumphant year for the Cyclones.

Players to know

Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler: 178/260 (68.5%), 2,512 yards, 24 TDs

Iowa State RB Breece Hall: 222 carries, 1,357 yards, 17 TDs

Picks: Nick: Iowa State +5.5, Sam: Iowa State +5.5

Big Ten: No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 14 Northwestern

Time: Noon | TV: Fox | Line: Ohio State -20 | Total: 56.5

How these teams got here

Ohio State (5-0): The Big Ten rule change heard about around the world put the Buckeyes in the title game. Ohio State had three games canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 cases, though just one of those cancellation was because of cases at Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ best win among its five was a 42-35 victory over Indiana.

Northwestern (6-1): The Wildcats beat Iowa and Wisconsin in a five-game win streak to start the season. A loss to Michigan State ruined any hopes of an undefeated regular season but Northwestern was able to clinch the West on a weekend when it didn’t play Minnesota because of those wins over both the Hawkeyes and the Badgers.

What’s on the line

Ohio State: A win gets the Buckeyes into the College Football Playoff. The nightmare scenario of two SEC teams and two ACC teams making the playoff and kicking Ohio State out seems to be nonexistent with Florida’s loss to LSU.

Northwestern: A win means the Wildcats will head to a New Year’s Six Bowl game in a warm climate. A loss means that Northwestern will still head south, albeit for a lesser bowl game.

Players to know

Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson: 34 receptions, 572 yards, 5 TDs

Northwestern WR Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman: 30 receptions, 344 yards, 4 TDs

Picks: Nick: Ohio State -20, Sam: Ohio State -20

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, left, talk with quarterback Justin Fields during the second half of their NCAA college football game against Nebraska Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Nebraska 52-17. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and quarterback Justin Fields are looking to get back to the College Football Playoff. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

SEC: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 7 Florida

Time: 8 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: Alabama -17.5 | Total: 74.5

How these teams got here

Alabama (10-0): The 2019 season was a rare two-loss campaign for the Crimson Tide, so Nick Saban wasn’t going to let that happen again. Alabama has cruised to a 10-0 record and a No. 1 ranking. All of Alabama’s games have been decided by at least two touchdowns. The 15-point win over Ole Miss back in October was the closest margin of victory.

Florida (8-2): Florida lost its third game of the season to Texas A&M but followed that up by winning its next six games by double-digit margins. The Gators clinched the SEC East with a win over Tennessee on Dec. 5, but followed that up with a disappointing effort in a loss to LSU. The loss dropped UF down to No. 7 in the CFP rankings.

What’s on the line

Alabama: For Alabama, it’s simple. The Crimson Tide can win the SEC for the seventh time under Nick Saban and reach the College Football Playoff sixth time in the CFP’s seven-season existence. Even with a loss, there’s a good chance Alabama advances to the CFP.

Florida: UF is in the SEC title game for the first time since 2016. The Gators last won the conference crown in 2008 and have lost the last three times they advanced to the title game. All three losses came to Alabama. At No. 7, a convincing win over the top-ranked Crimson Tide could possibly put the Gators in the mix for the No. 4 spot despite having two losses.

Players to know

Alabama WR DeVonta Smith: 83 catches, 1,327 yards, 15 TDs

Florida QB Kyle Trask: 259/369 (70.2%), 3,717 yards, 40 TDs

Picks: Nick: Alabama -17.5, Sam: Alabama -17.5

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