Everything you need to know about conference championship games

NCAAF


On Sunday, Dec. 3, we’ll find out the four teams headed to the College Football Playoff and the rest of the bowl matchups. First, there are some trophies to hand out.

Here’s what you need to know about this weekend’s conference championship games.

Pac-12: No. 12 Stanford (9-3) vs. No. 10 USC (10-2)

Friday, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN App
(at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California)

What’s at stake for Stanford: After a 1-2 start, which included a loss to USC, the Cardinal have gone 8-1 and are playing for a spot in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. Stanford has won all three of its previous trips to the Pac-12 title game, and a win over the Trojans would give it double-digit wins for the seventh time in the last eight years.

What’s at stake for USC: How about the school’s first Pac-12 championship game title? Yes, the game has only been around since 2011, but this is only USC’s second appearance. A win might not be enough to get the Trojans back in the CFP picture, but considering all the roster issues this season, an 11-2 season and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl isn’t bad.

Who to watch for Stanford: Just try to take your eyes off running back Bryce Love. The junior will be in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, and he is second nationally with 1,848 rushing yards. He rushed for 160 in the loss to USC earlier this season. Since then, the Trojans have allowed 147.4 rushing yards per game.

Who to watch for USC: Running back Ronald Jones has been one of the Trojans’ best players of late, averaging 152.7 yards per game in the month of November. Stanford’s defense gave up 134.3, but the good news is that’s more than 50 yards better than the two previous months.

Prediction: USC 31, Stanford 20

MAC: Akron (7-5) vs. Toledo (10-2)

Saturday, noon ET on ESPN and ESPN App
(at Ford Field in Detroit)

What’s at stake for Akron: The Zips would be able to say they are 2-0 in the MAC title game, last appearing in and winning in 2005. A win would give Akron eight wins for the second time in three years, which would be the first time that has ever happened for the program.

What’s at stake for Toledo: The Rockets last won the MAC championship in 2004. This would also mark just the fifth 11-win season for the Rockets, with the last one coming back in 1995.

Who to watch for Akron: Junior linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III is one of the most active defenders in the country. He leads the Zips in tackles (117) and sacks (five). He’s also second on the team with 8.5 tackles for loss.

Who to watch for Toledo: If you haven’t watched Logan Woodside this season, prepare to be impressed. He has thrown for 3,451 yards and has 24 touchdowns to just three interceptions. He has completed at least 65 percent of his passes eight times this year.

Prediction: Toledo 38, Akron 21

American: No. 20 Memphis (10-1) at No. 14 UCF (11-0)

Saturday, noon ET on ABC and ESPN App
(at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando)

What’s at stake for Memphis: A win over UCF would likely push the Tigers past the Knights in the CFP rankings, making them the Group of Five representative in a New Year’s Six bowl. It would also bring even more attention to head coach Mike Norvell, whose name has come up for more than a couple high-profile schools with coaching openings.

What’s at stake for UCF: Fair or unfair, even a 12-0 UCF isn’t going to crack the top four, but a win would send the Knights into a New Year’s Six bowl. Win or lose, Scott Frost’s name will continue to be linked to high-profile openings, especially Nebraska.

Who to watch for Memphis: Quarterback Riley Ferguson might be the best quarterback we aren’t talking about enough. He has a conference-best 3,500 passing yards and is tied for first with 32 touchdowns. He’s averaging 318.2 passing yards per game and just watched USF Bulls Quinton Flowers throw for 503 yards and four touchdowns against UCF.

Who to watch for UCF: Well, someone has to make sure Ferguson stays in check. Enter Shaquem Griffin. The speedy linebacker can drop back into coverage, move sideline to sideline and get into the backfield to terrorize Riley. He has 3.5 sacks and eight quarterback hurries on the season.

Prediction: UCF 34, Memphis 31

Conference USA: North Texas (9-3) at Florida Atlantic (9-3)

Saturday, noon ET on ESPN2 and ESPN App
(at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida)

What’s at stake for North Texas: North Texas has won eight of its last nine games and has set single-season school records for points (450), total offense (5,634 yards), passing touchdowns (28) and first downs (293). A win would give the Mean Green their first-ever 10-win season.

What’s at stake for FAU:

Lane Kiffin has exceeded expectations in his first season at Florida Atlantic and is clearly enjoying the ride.

Who to watch for FAU: Well, all eyes will be on Kiffin, but don’t forget about running back Devin Singletary, who is fourth in FBS in rushing (1,632). He also leads the nation with 26 rushing touchdowns and is second with 56 rushes of 10-plus yards. North Texas’ rush defense ranks 103rd nationally (202 yards per game).

Who to watch for North Texas: The matchup between Singletary and North Texas linebacker E.J. Ejiya could be fun to watch. Ejiya hasn’t had the flashy stats of late, but he leads the team with 93 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He’s going to be asked to do everything in his power to slow down Singletary.

Prediction: FAU 41, North Texas 28

Big 12: No. 11 TCU (10-2) vs. No. 3 Oklahoma (11-1)

Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on Fox
(at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)

What’s at stake for TCU: The Frogs are likely way on the outside of a possible playoff berth, but they would earn their first Big 12 championship if they’re able to avenge an earlier loss to Oklahoma.

What’s at stake for Oklahoma: The Sooners would win their third straight Big 12 title and clinch a playoff spot, and with another big performance, quarterback Baker Mayfield would likely clinch the Heisman Trophy.

Who to watch for TCU: This is going to be a shootout, so it’s up to quarterback Kenny Hill to go step-for-step with the nation’s best. Hill threw for 270 yards and ran for another 40 in a 38-20 loss to the Sooners on Nov. 11. Hill has been one of the nation’s best third-down quarterbacks, while teams have converted 38.2 percent of their third downs against the Sooners this season.

Who to watch for Oklahoma: Is there really a question, here? It’s always Mayfield. He’s a lightning rod and arguably the most exciting player to watch in all of college football. It’s going to take a masterful performance by TCU’s defense to derail Mayfield’s chances at winning the Heisman.

Prediction: Oklahoma 38, TCU 24

SEC: No. 6 Georgia (11-1) at No. 2 Auburn (10-2)

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET on CBS
(at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)

What’s at stake for Georgia: This is a chance to exorcise the demons of Atlanta. The Bulldogs have lost their last two SEC title games, and you have to go all the way back to 2005 to find their last championship. After the Tigers throttled the Dawgs 40-17 a couple weeks ago, a revenge win would likely push Georgia right back into one of the four playoff spots.

What’s at stake for Auburn: With two wins over No. 1 teams in three weeks (including Georgia), this win would propel the Tigers into the CFP. It would also give Auburn its first SEC title since 2013 and completely extinguish any hot-seat talk for coach Gus Malzahn, who a month ago was in danger of losing his job on The Plains.

Who to watch for Georgia: Quarterback Jake Fromm hadn’t been asked to do much until the Dawgs were crushed by Auburn on Nov. 11. In that game, Fromm completed just 46.4 percent of his passes and was sacked four times. He was also 0-for-5 passing with a fumble when under duress.

Who to watch for Auburn: Running back Kerryon Johnson is day-to-day with a shoulder injury, but it’s going to be awfully tough to keep him off the field for the biggest game of his life. Johnson is Auburn’s best player and leads the SEC with 127.6 yards per game and has 17 touchdowns on the season. He totaled 233 yards of offense against Georgia earlier this season.

Prediction: Auburn 27, Georgia 20

MWC: No. 25 Fresno State (9-3) at Boise State (9-3)

Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN App
(at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho)

What’s at stake for Fresno State: It would cap off a remarkable turnaround in Jeff Tedford’s first season. The Bulldogs won four games combined in the past two seasons and are looking for their first Mountain West championship since 2013.

What’s at stake for Boise State: Bryan Harsin would secure his third season with double-digit wins in four years as Boise State head coach.

Who to watch for Fresno State: Wide receiver KeeSean Johnson caught six passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ win over Boise State last week, extending his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 34.

Who to watch for Boise State: The Broncos are one of the few teams with a two-quarterback system that works. Montell Cozart is the dual-threat, change-of-pace from Brett Rypien. Cozart will be interesting to watch because of his scrambling ability and how he can open up the running game for the Broncos.

Prediction: Boise State 27, Fresno State 24

ACC: No. 7 Miami (10-1) vs. No. 1 Clemson (11-1)

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN App
(at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina)

What’s at stake for Miami: This would be the first ACC title for the Hurricanes and their first 11-win season since 2003. Can the Canes sneak into the CFP? That’s certainly not off the table with an ACC title.

What’s at stake for Clemson: A win for the Tigers would give them three straight ACC titles for the first time since they won three straight from 1986 to 1988. Beating Miami would also secure the top-ranked Tigers’ place in the playoff for a third straight year.

Who to watch for Miami: Quarterback Malik Rosier isn’t the flashiest player out there, but he is the ultimate grinder. However, he was not efficient in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh. The old Rosier will have to show up against Clemson’s ferocious front.

Who to watch for Clemson: Defensive lineman Christian Wilkins is the ultimate space-eater up front. He’s the Tigers’ best run-stopper, and if the Tigers can stop Miami’s run game, they’ll win easily. Wilkins might not have the flashiest stats, but he clogs holes and pushes plays to his teammates, especially against the run.

Prediction: Clemson 27, Miami 17

Big Ten: No. 8 Ohio State (10-2) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (12-0)

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on Fox
(at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis)

What’s at stake for Ohio State: The Buckeyes would not only win the Big Ten title for the first time since that 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin in 2014, but they would throw their name right back into the playoff conversation. The Buckeyes need help, and that embarrassing 55-24 loss to Iowa can’t be forgotten, but Alabama’s loss to Auburn has given the Buckeyes new playoff life.

What’s at stake for Wisconsin: A win would all but guarantee a spot in the CFP, the first for the now fourth-ranked Badgers. Weeks ago, people didn’t think Wisconsin had the résumé to make the playoff. A win over the Buckeyes would change that.

Who to watch for Ohio State: Quarterback J.T. Barrett has had an up-and-down season, but he’s also entering Saturday’s game with a knee injury that was aggravated when a person with a camera bumped him while he was warming up on a crowded sideline in the Buckeyes’ recent win over Michigan.

Who to watch for Wisconsin: Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook doesn’t exactly blow you away as a passer, but if running back Jonathan Taylor can soften up Ohio State’s front, the Badgers might be able to spring some bigger plays in the passing game. Taylor is averaging 152 yards in conference games.

Prediction: Ohio State 24, Wisconsin 20



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