Welcome to conference championship week.
While much of the focus of the sport understandably revolves around the College Football Playoff, winning a conference ranks high on every program’s list of accomplishments — even if the opportunity to compete for a national championship is not on the horizon.
But among the Power Five conferences, each championship game has CFP implications starting with the Pac-12 on Friday night and going through the Big Ten to cap off an action-packed Saturday.
And if a few of these Power Five games turn into blowouts, there are five other title games to keep you occupied throughout your weekend.
5. No. 23 Virginia (9-3) vs. No. 3 Clemson (12-0)
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Location: Charlotte | Line: Clemson -28.5
Virginia completed the cycle of ACC Coastal teams by clinching the division title with a streak-ending victory over Virginia Tech last weekend. The Cavaliers had lost 15 straight games to the Hokies but outlasted their rivals in a wacky second half and ultimately pulled out a hard-fought 39-30 win. Virginia, led by dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins, enters its first ACC title game on a four-game winning streak. Perkins is coming off perhaps the best game of his career: 20-of-33 passing for 311 yards with 164 yards and two scores rushing. But going against the Clemson defense will be a much bigger challenge.
On the other side, Clemson enters its fifth consecutive conference championship game on a ridiculous 27-game winning streak that dates back to Week 1 of the 2018 season. The defending national champions cruised to a title last year and haven’t slowed down. The Tigers had a few underwhelming performances early in the year, but haven’t played in a game decided by fewer than 31 points since a one-point win over North Carolina on Sept. 28. The lack of strength in the ACC has the Tigers at No. 3 in the CFP rankings, which apparently is a signal of some sort of disrespect to Dabo Swinney. If he has his team buying into the disrespect card, then you know his players will be at the top of their games for this one.
Nick Bromberg: Clemson -28.5
Sam Cooper: Clemson -28.5
Pat Forde: Clemson -28.5
Pete Thamel: Clemson -28.5
Dan Wetzel: Clemson -28.5
4. No. 1 Ohio State (12-0) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (10-2)
Time: 8 p.m. | TV: FOX | Location: Indianapolis | Line: Ohio State -16
Ohio State has been the most dominant team in the country, winning all 12 of its games by a double-digit margin. The Buckeyes are coming off a 28-17 win over No. 8 Penn State that clinched the Big Ten East and a 56-27 road win over No. 13 Michigan, OSU’s eighth straight win over its biggest rival. Now the Buckeyes get another shot at Wisconsin, the team it dispatched easily, 38-7, back in October. Saturday night’s game will be one final showcase for OSU’s three — yes, three — Heisman candidates: QB Justin Fields, DE Chase Young and RB J.K. Dobbins. Fields has a ridiculous 37-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Young leads the nation with 16.5 sacks and Dobbins has rushed for 1,657 yards and 19 TDs. With a convincing victory, the Buckeyes should wrap up the No. 1 seed in the CFP.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin had to bounce back from back-to-back losses to win the Big Ten West. After losing to Illinois and OSU, the Badgers reeled off four straight, including an emphatic road win over Minnesota on Saturday to clinch the division. Though he scored three total touchdowns, Jonathan Taylor rushed for only 76 yards against the Gophers. But he was picked up by quarterback Jack Coan, who has had an excellent season that has fallen under the radar. Coan threw for 280 yards and two scores in the win and is now third in the country in completion percentage (72.3). Taylor is averaging 148.3 yards per game in his career, but has mustered only 93 yards total in two games vs. the Buckeyes. The Badgers may need a big game from Coan to pull off the upset.
Nick Bromberg: Ohio State -16
Sam Cooper: Ohio State -16
Pat Forde: Ohio State -16
Pete Thamel: Ohio State -16
Dan Wetzel: Ohio State -16
3. No. 5 Utah (11-1) vs. No. 13 Oregon (10-2)
Time: 8 p.m. (Friday) | TV: ABC | Location: Santa Clara | Line: Utah -6.5
Utah could snap a two-year drought for the Pac-12 by reaching the College Football Playoff. The Utes are going to need some help, however, if they can knock off Oregon on Friday night to win their first Pac-12 championship. With Georgia currently in that coveted No. 4 spot, Utah will need LSU to beat the Bulldogs in the SEC title game. Earlier Saturday, Utah fans will be rooting on No. 7 Baylor against No. 6 Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. But even if OU wins, Utah has a heck of a case for the CFP selection committee. The Utes, since a Sept. 20 loss at USC, have been destroying teams. Since the loss, other than a close road win over Washington, Utah’s average margin of victory has been 32.4 points per game.
This game looked like it had the chance to be a playoff play-in game — until Oregon was upset by Arizona State. The Ducks shook off a Week 1 heartbreaker to Auburn by winning nine straight games. But things changed two weeks ago in Tempe when turnovers by Justin Herbert and a late busted coverage ultimately doomed the Ducks in a 31-28 loss. Oregon rebounded last week with an underwhelming 24-10 win over an Oregon State team playing with a backup quarterback, and is now ranked No. 13. Still, the Ducks can win their first Pac-12 title since 2014 and clinch a spot in the Rose Bowl while playing spoiler for the Utes.
Nick Bromberg: Utah -6.5
Sam Cooper: Oregon +6.5
Pat Forde: Oregon +6.5
Pete Thamel: Utah -6.5
Dan Wetzel: Utah -6.5
2. No. 7 Baylor (11-1) vs. No. 6 Oklahoma (11-1)
Time: Noon | TV: ABC | Location: Arlington | Line: Oklahoma -9
Baylor has been one of the season’s biggest surprises. The Bears opened the year 9-0, winning four of those games by a single possession. Matt Rhule’s group then had a massive opportunity to get to 10-0 and put itself in the thick of the College Football Playoff race when Oklahoma visited Waco on Nov. 16. Baylor jumped out to a 28-3 lead, only to allow a massive comeback from the Sooners in a 34-31 loss. But that loss didn’t linger. The Bears cruised against Texas and Kansas, setting up a rematch with OU, this time with the Big 12 crown — and maybe more — on the line.
For Baylor to get to the playoff, it will need losses from Georgia and Utah. That would open the door for the Bears to jump to No. 4. Oklahoma may not need that Utah loss. Oklahoma, if it gets another marquee win over Baylor, may have a better chance to make a move into that No. 4 spot, leapfrogging Utah in the process. But will Oklahoma’s close margins of victory hurt when compared to Utah? After suffering its only loss to Kansas State on Oct. 26, Oklahoma won its next three games by a combined eight points. The Sooners then capped off the regular season with a 34-16 win over No. 21 Oklahoma State. In that win, Jalen Hurts avoided the turnovers that have plagued him throughout the year. He’ll need to play another clean game.
Nick Bromberg: Oklahoma -9
Sam Cooper: Baylor +9
Pat Forde: Baylor +9
Pete Thamel: Baylor +9
Dan Wetzel: Baylor +9
1. No. 4 Georgia (11-1) vs. No. 2 LSU (12-0)
Time: 4 p.m. | TV: CBS | Location: Atlanta | Line: LSU -7
It’s pretty simple for Georgia. Beat LSU and the Bulldogs are in the College Football Playoff. Well, the path is simple at least. LSU’s offense has been destroying basically every team in its path all season long, but Georgia boasts one of the nation’s best defenses. The Bulldogs are allowing only 10.4 points per game, second-best in the country, and 257 yards per game, which is fourth-best. But the offense isn’t exactly explosive, ranking ninth in the SEC in plays of 20-plus yards. The fact that star running back D’Andre Swift is dealing with a shoulder injury, top receiver Lawrence Cager is out with an ankle injury and other leading receiver George Pickens is suspended for the first half will make life difficult for quarterback Jake Fromm.
On the other side, it’s hard to envision LSU missing out on a CFP spot even if it loses this one. And with the way Heisman favorite Joe Burrow and the offense has been performing, it’s hard to envision any sort of a let down from Ed Orgeron’s group. This is a hungry team that senses an opportunity. The Tigers are a perfect 12-0, taking down Florida, Auburn and mighty Alabama along the way. Now the Tigers have a chance to win the SEC for the first time since 2011. That’s also the last time the Tigers won a national title. Could this be the year LSU gets back to the top of the college football world?
Nick Bromberg: LSU -7
Sam Cooper: LSU -7
Pat Forde: LSU -7
Pete Thamel: LSU -7
Dan Wetzel: LSU -7
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