Week 14 winners and losers: Sizing up conference title races ahead of season's final week

·18 min read

There won’t be too much conference championship drama in the final week of the college football regular season.

Thirteen teams have already clinched spots in the 10 conference title games set to take place over Dec. 18 and 19. That includes No. 1 Alabama after the Crimson Tide wrapped up the SEC West in dominating fashion with a 55-17 win over defending national champion LSU.

The Alabama passing game carved up LSU as wide receiver DeVonta Smith caught seven passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone. QB Mac Jones finished the game 20-of-28 passing for 385 yards and four touchdowns and got to take the fourth quarter off.

The Tide will play Florida in the SEC championship game on Dec. 19. The No. 6 Gators beat Tennesee on Saturday to clinch the East. While both Alabama and Florida need to win on Dec. 12 to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive, they can also start their preparations for the title game in Atlanta.

Here’s a look at all of the conference title games with one week to go in the regular season. Five conference title game matchups are already decided as of Saturday night and the Pac-12 is the only Power Five conference that doesn’t have its conference title game set.

American

Matchup: No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 24 Tulsa

Both Cincinnati and Tulsa are 6-0 in the conference and clinched title game berths on Saturday. The Bearcats didn’t play while Tulsa beat Navy.

Here’s where it gets tricky for the AAC, however. The two teams are set to play each other in a makeup game on Dec. 12 at Tulsa. The winner gets home-field advantage for the title game.

If Cincinnati loses that game, the Bearcats’ chances of making a New Year’s Six bowl game as the top-ranked Group of Five team take a hit as long as Coastal Carolina stays undefeated. And the Bearcats’ slim College Football Playoff hopes become nonexistent with a loss.

Since the game was already postponed once, it may benefit the AAC if it cancels Saturday’s game to give the teams a week off and moves the title game to a neutral site. We’ve already seen the ACC adjust its rules midseason.

But while that would be in Cincinnati’s best interest, Tulsa probably wants to play and beat the Bearcats twice. Two wins over Cincinnati and a Coastal Carolina loss would put the Golden Hurricane in a New Year’s Six berth.

ACC

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

The Irish beat Syracuse on Saturday while Clemson dispatched Virginia Tech.

Notre Dame clinched a berth in the ACC title game earlier in the week when the ACC said the Irish were in after rearranging its schedule while Clemson clinched with its win over Virginia Tech.

The ACC’s changes also gave each team a week off before the title game. While there will be teams in the conference playing each other on Dec. 12, both Notre Dame and Clemson have two weeks to prepare for the rematch of their fantastic November overtime game in South Bend.

Ohio State players celebrate with Haskell Garrett (92) after his touchdown on an interception during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan State, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Ohio State beat Michigan State on Saturday. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Big Ten

Projected Matchup: No. 14 Northwestern vs. No. 4 Ohio State

The Wildcats didn’t play Minnesota on Saturday because of COVID-19 cases with the Gophers. The canceled game meant that Northwestern will finish the season with the best winning percentage of any team in the Big Ten West.

Ohio State’s Big Ten title hopes hinge on Michigan’s ability to play on Dec. 12 or a rule change by the conference. The Big Ten currently has a rule that prohibits a team from making the conference title game if it’s had three or more games canceled. Ohio State has already had two games canceled. If COVID-19 prevents Michigan from playing, Ohio State would be at three cancellations.

Could the Big Ten revise the rule to keep the Buckeyes eligible for the title? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. If OSU doesn’t play Michigan and the rule doesn’t change, Indiana will represent the West. The Buckeyes beat the Hoosiers already but Indiana — who had a great win over No. 16 Wisconsin on Saturday — would be the top eligible team in the Big Ten East.

Big 12

Matchup: No. 9 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Oklahoma

The Cyclones clinched a spot in the title game with a huge win over West Virginia and a loss by Oklahoma State to TCU. Oklahoma got in with a combination of the Cowboys’ loss and a win over Baylor.

Oklahoma will be gunning for a seventh straight Big 12 title while the Cyclones are looking for their first Big 12 title. ISU beat the Sooners in October and the winner of this one is probably going to the Cotton Bowl.

Conference USA

Projected Matchup: No. 21 Marshall vs. UAB

The Thundering Herd saw its undefeated season disappear on Saturday with an unexpected home loss to Rice. Now Marshall has to beat Charlotte next Friday in order to wrap up the East.

The West is a little messier. UTSA is the top team in the division at 5-2. UAB is at 3-1. UTSA has no games remaining while UAB plays Rice on Dec. 12.

Since the two teams won’t finish with the same number of conference games played, the team with the best winning percentage will go to the title game. That gives the edge to UAB, which would make the title game with a win over the Owls thanks to a 4-1 record.

MAC

Matchup: Buffalo vs. Ball State

While Buffalo hasn’t officially clinched the East we’re operating on the premise that they have after its game vs. Ohio was canceled. The Bulls are 4-0 and have beaten both Kent St. and Miami. If Buffalo loses to Akron on Dec. 12 and Ohio wins, then the Bobcats will be 3-1 and Buffalo will be 4-1.

In the East, Ball State and Western Michigan will meet on Dec. 12 for a berth in the MAC championship game. Both teams are 4-1 after Ball State’s win over Central Michigan and Western Michigan’s loss to Eastern Michigan.

Mountain West

Projected Matchup: San Jose State vs. Boise State

The Spartans and Broncos were supposed to play each other in the regular season but the game was canceled due to COVID-19 cases at Boise State. We think the matchup will happen in the title game.

SJSU moved to 5-0 in the conference with a win over Hawaii on Saturday. Boise is 4-0 and plays Wyoming on Dec. 12. A win there coupled with a San Jose State win over Nevada means the two teams will play for the title. If Nevada beats SJSU and handles Fresno State on Saturday, then the Wolf Pack are in the title game.

Pac-12

Projected matchup: No. 22 Washington vs. No. 20 USC

Welcome to the Power Five conference with the most title game scenarios. Where should we begin?

Washington dropped to 3-1 with a loss to Stanford on Saturday. A win in that game could have clinched the division for the Huskies because No. 23 Oregon lost to Cal. Instead, Washington has to beat the Ducks on Dec. 12 to get into the title game. If Oregon wins the game then the Ducks are in as long as they’re not tied with Oregon State. If they are, the Beavers win the North.

The South could come down to the College Football Playoff rankings. USC plays Washington State on Sunday in a postponed game. If the Trojans win, they move to 4-0 and into a tie with Colorado. The Buffaloes beat Arizona on Saturday.

Here’s where the rankings come into play. USC and Colorado’s game was canceled because of COVID-19 cases at USC. If the two teams finish tied at either 5-0 or 4-1, the highest team in the CFP rankings will be the one that represents the South. Since USC is currently ranked, we’re giving the Trojans the edge.

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 05:  Mac Jones #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Najee Harris #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide react after a touchdown against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on December 05, 2020 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Alabama will play Florida in two weeks. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

SEC

Matchup: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 6 Florida

The Crimson Tide clinched what we all knew was going to happen with that win over LSU to win the SEC West. The Gators beat Tennessee to officially take the East.

Similar to the ACC title game, this game will be for a spot in the College Football Playoff. And if Florida beats Alabama, both teams could end up in the playoff.

Sun Belt

Matchup: No. 18 Coastal Carolina vs. No. 25 Louisiana

How crazy is it that the Sun Belt championship game will feature two ranked teams? The Chanticleers beat BYU in a fantastic win on Saturday while Louisiana survived a bizarre coaching decision by Billy Napier to beat Appalachian State, 24-21, on Friday night.

If Coastal beats Troy on Dec. 12 and wins the Sun Belt, the Chanticleers will be at 12-0. Is that good enough for consideration for a New Year’s Six bowl game? It should be.

Here are this week’s winners and losers.

— Nick Bromberg

Winners

Coastal Carolina: When the CCU-BYU game was set up this week, many wondered how the Chanticleers would hold up against BYU’s size in the trenches. They ended up holding up just fine. In fact, the Coastal offensive line paved the way for a 281-yard rushing performance in CCU’s 22-17 upset win. On the other side, the Chanticleers defense had constant pressure on Zach Wilson, BYU’s star quarterback. It was pressure unlike anything Wilson has experienced in 2020, and it showed.

Iowa State: Iowa State had already clinched a spot in the Big 12 title game when TCU beat Oklahoma State earlier Saturday but the Cyclones wanted to make a statement against West Virginia. And ISU absolutely trounced the Mountaineers 42-6 to close out the regular season with an 8-2 record (8-1 Big 12). And because Texas beat Kansas State on Saturday, Iowa State officially finished in first and will be the home team for the conference championship game against Oklahoma on Dec. 19. While OU is the six-time defending Big 12 champion, Iowa State has never won the Big 12, nor has it won a conference championship of any kind since 1912.

AMES, IA - DECEMBER 5: Head coach Matt Campbell of the Iowa State Cyclones reacts from the sidelines in the second half against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Jack Trice Stadium on December 5, 2020 in Ames, Iowa. The Cyclones won 42-6. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
Head coach Matt Campbell has Iowa State in the Big 12 title game for the first time. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

Texas A&M: Texas A&M notched its sixth consecutive victory by taking down Auburn 31-20 on the road. The Aggies were unimpressive in last week’s 20-7 win over LSU, but put together a much better performance on Saturday. In the win, A&M rushed for 313 yards and outscored the Tigers 17-0 in the fourth quarter. At No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Aggies just need to stay the course. They won’t play for the SEC title due to their loss to Alabama, but if they keep winning (games against Ole Miss and Tennessee remain), they will remain in the CFP picture.

Florida: The sixth-ranked Gators wrapped up the SEC East by beating Tennessee 31-19 on the road. It wasn’t as close as the final score makes it seem. Kyle Trask threw for 433 yards and four touchdowns as the Gators cruised to a 31-7 lead. Now Florida will play in the SEC title game for the first time since 2016. But before the Gators meet Alabama in Atlanta, they have a game against LSU at home next week. Two wins and Florida is a shoo-in for the College Football Playoff.

Indiana: Indiana was able to go on the road and beat Wisconsin even without star quarterback Michael Penix. The Hoosiers didn’t do much on offense but the defense carried the day in a 14-6 victory. Indiana is now 6-1 on the season and has snapped losing streaks to Michigan (24 games), Wisconsin (10) and Penn State (6). IU will close out the regular season next week against Purdue while waiting to see what happens with Ohio State.

Indiana players celebrate in the final seconds of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Madison, Wis.Indiana won 14-6. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Indiana players celebrate in the final seconds of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Madison, Wis.Indiana won 14-6. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Jarek Broussard: A star running back is emerging at Colorado. Jarek Broussard had zero career carries entering the season after redshirting in 2018 and suffering a season-ending knee injury early in 2019. But he has been the bell cow for the undefeated Buffs in 2020. In Saturday’s 24-13 win over Arizona, Broussard rushed for a whopping 301 yards on 25 carries. He now has 733 yards in just four games as Colorado is in position to compete for a Pac-12 South title.

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Stanford: Stanford will be on the road for the rest of the regular season because of the COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County. That road trip started this week for the team’s game at No. 22 Washington as the Cardinal practiced during the week at a high school and even conducted a walkthrough in a park in Bellevue, a city just across Lake Washington from Seattle.

Those tricky circumstances did not affect Stanford on the field as it emerged with a 31-26 upset win. The Cardinal jumped out to a 31-10 lead and held on for dear life, eventually closing out the win with a 14-play, 79-yard drive that took the final 7:54 off the clock. Now 2-2, Stanford will stay on the road and play Oregon State next weekend — a game that was originally supposed to be played at home.

San Jose State: After three weeks without playing, San Jose State returned to the field on Saturday and knocked off Hawaii, 35-24, in Honolulu. Like Stanford, SJSU was forced to the road due to local COVID-19 restrictions. But it didn’t matter. Brent Brennan’s team cruised past the Rainbow Warriors, putting up 468 yards of offense in the process. The Spartans are now 5-0 for the first time since 1939 and are sitting alone atop the Mountain West standings.

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Akron: Akron won a game for the first time since Oct. 27, 2018, and it did so in an emphatic fashion. The Zips destroyed Bowling Green, 31-3, to snap a miserable 21-game losing streak. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but the Zips forced three turnovers and blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown in the win. The offensive star for the Zips was running back Teon Dollard, who rushed for 185 yards and now has 456 yards in five games.

Louisiana: Louisiana somehow overcame four long snapping errors — three over the punter’s head and another that cost UL an extra point — in a win over Appalachian State on Friday night. It was UL’s first win over App State since App joined the Sun Belt in 2014, meaning the Mountaineers had won eight straight in the series. With the win, UL improved to 9-1 on the year with the Sun Belt title game against Coastal Carolina in two weeks. And even better — coach Billy Napier informed the university he will remain at the school. Napier was in the mix for the South Carolina job.

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Losers

Marshall: What happened, Marshall? The Thundering Herd were 7-0 and ranked No. 21 entering Saturday’s game against Rice. Rice had played just three games on the year and wasn’t expected to give Marshall much of a game. But the Owls did more than that. They upset Marshall, 20-0. It was a really ugly performance from Marshall, especially quarterback Grant Wells. Wells threw five interceptions in the loss, including a pick-six in the third quarter. Marshall can win the C-USA East if it beats Charlotte next week, but its perfect season went up in smoke on Saturday.

Oregon: Oregon had a few close calls against Washington State and UCLA and now it has a couple losses. Last week, the defending Pac-12 champions lost to rival Oregon State. The Ducks followed that up with another disappointing performance on Saturday and lost 21-17 to previously winless California. Oregon has been plagued by turnovers and two more in Saturday’s game were costly. The Ducks fumbled twice in Cal territory while down four points in the fourth quarter. The second fumble came with 52 seconds remaining as the Ducks were attempting a comeback. Oregon saw many of its top players opt out before the season, but that’s no excuse for the sloppy way they’ve been playing.

Oklahoma State: Speaking of sloppy play, Oklahoma State found a way to lose to a mediocre TCU team on Saturday despite forcing five turnovers. The Cowboys led 16-7 at halftime, but ended up dropping to 6-3 with a 29-22 loss. Oklahoma State had two chances to tie the game in the final minutes, but came up empty. First, Spencer Sanders was intercepted in the end zone on a second-and-goal play. The Cowboys were then gifted great field position after a TCU fumble, but they quickly turned it over on downs. This season was a golden opportunity for Oklahoma State to win the Big 12, but Mike Gundy’s group has seemingly underwhelmed on a weekly basis.

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy looks up at the scoreboard in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas Tech in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma State dropped to 6-3 with a loss to TCU on Saturday. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Tennessee: Tennessee finally gave Harrison Bailey, the program’s acclaimed five-star recruit, a chance to start at quarterback. But Bailey couldn’t jumpstart the Vols offense in yet another loss. And the UT coaching staff didn’t give Bailey many chances to throw the ball downfield. He was just 14-of-21 for 111 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 31-19 defeat. It marked the sixth consecutive loss for Tennessee after starting the year 2-0. The Vols have the chance to get up off the deck next week against Vanderbilt, their winless rival. Otherwise, it could be eight straight losses to close out the year.

Kansas State: A once-promising season for Kansas State has gone haywire. On Halloween, the Wildcats were 4-1 and ranked No. 16 in the nation. Since then, K-State lost five straight games to finish the regular season. And three of them were in blowout fashion, including Saturday’s 69-31 loss to Texas. Though the Wildcats moved the ball better than they had in weeks, they also surrendered an absurd 69 points and 608 yards of offense to the Longhorns. It was ugly.

Purdue: Purdue is another team enduring a tough losing streak. Last month, Purdue was playing Northwestern with first place in the Big Ten West on the line. The Boilermakers lost 27-20 that night, and have followed it up with three more losses. The loss at Minnesota was marred by a controversial offensive pass interference call in the final minute, but the latest two — at home against Rutgers and Nebraska — were just ugly. On Saturday, Nebraska jumped out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead and never looked back, eventually winning 37-27. Purdue has another tough game next week too — a trip to Indiana.

Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (5) breaks up a pass intended for Purdue wide receiver David Bell (3) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020.  (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (5) breaks up a pass intended for Purdue wide receiver David Bell (3) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Texas Tech: Sure, Texas Tech won on Saturday. But it’s pretty hard to feel good about a 16-13 win over Kansas. The Red Raiders gained nearly twice as many yards as the Jayhawks, but allowed KU to stay in the game with four turnovers. Kansas actually tied the game at 13-13 early in the fourth quarter after a TTU fumble. Before this game, Kansas’ closest loss in Big 12 play was a 21-point margin. Kansas dropped to 0-9 while Texas Tech closed out its season with a 4-6 record.

Memphis: Memphis entered Saturday with a 6-2 record, but those who have been paying attention knew that record was a bit of fool’s gold. The Tigers barely beat bad teams like Temple and USF and scored only 10 points last week against Navy. Memphis really struggled running the ball against Navy, and Tulane took advantage of that on Saturday. Removing sacks from the equation, the Tigers mustered only 61 yards on 21 carries in a 35-21 loss. Brady White struggled too, completing only 50% of his passes and tossing two interceptions.

South Carolina: South Carolina closed out its season with a whimper. The Gamecocks reportedly had only 46 scholarship players available on Saturday night against Kentucky. It showed in a 41-18 loss. While the offense turned it over four times, the defense surrendered 492 yards. With the loss, South Carolina finished the year with a miserable 2-8 record. The school reportedly has a replacement for Will Muschamp lined up, though.

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