Not only is it conference championship weekend, it’s also the final opportunity for all six CFB Playoff contenders to make their on-field cases to the committee.
Things kickoff Friday night with the Pac-12 championship, where Oregon looks for redemption against Arizona (FOX). On Saturday, check out TCU-Iowa State in the early slot (ABC) and then flip over in the afternoon for the SEC title game between Alabama and Missouri (CBS).
Primetime starts with Baylor’s must-win-big game against Kansas State (ESPN), followed by Florida State-Georgia Tech in the ACC title game (ABC) and Ohio State-Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship (FOX).
Every game is a must win, making it must see T.V.
Also on the national viewing slate are the other three conference title games, all solid matchups, and the balance of the Big 12 and American Athletic regular-season slates. Don’t forget about Oklahoma-Oklahoma State in the Saturday, midafternoon time slot over on Fox Sports 1.
Thursday, Dec. 4
7:30PM ET, ESPN: UCF (8-3) at EAST CAROLINA (8-3): The first-ever American Athletic meeting, these two squared off eight times as C-USA members. ECU has a 6-3 all-time advantage, but the Knights have won two of the last three. If UCF wins, it will earn a share of the conference with Memphis (and Cincinnati if it beats Houston on Saturday). This game will be the story of the Pirates’ high-powered offense trying to score points vs. a Knights’ defense that’s ranked in the top ten in each major statistical category. Especially delicious is ECU’s No. 3-ranked pass offense vs. UCF’s No. 6-ranked secondary. Since coughing up 454 passing yards to Penn State in the overseas opener, the Knights have only given up 200-plus air yards once this season (214 to Houston). The Pirates, on the other hand, have only been held to fewer than 300 passing yards twice: At USF (250) and at Temple (217). Check out UCF cornerback Jacoby Glenn (#12), tied for the fourth-most interceptions in the FBS (six).
Friday, Dec. 5
7:00PM ET, ESPN2: MAC CHAMPIONSHIP: NORTHERN ILLINOIS (10-2) vs. BOWLING GREEN (7-5) (at Ford Field, Detroit Mich.): A rematch of last season’s MAC championship, a game No. 16 Northern Illinois won 47-27. For Bowling Green to capture its first MAC title since 1992, it will have to find a way to shore up its defense, a unit that ranks No. 101 in scoring, No. 98 against the run and No. 127 vs. the pass. The key to staying in the game will be shutting down Northern Illinois’ rushing attack, ranked No. 18 in the FBS, anchored by quarterback Drew Hare (#12) and running back Cameron Stingily (#42). Look out for Bowling Green senior linebacker Gabe Martin (#11) who leads the team with 100 tackles and is No. 1 in the MAC in tackles for a loss (15).
9:00PM ET, FOX: PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP: No. 7 ARIZONA (10-2) vs. No. 2 OREGON (11-1) (at Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.): A rematch of the Week 6 shocker when then unranked Arizona upset No. 2 Oregon 31-24 in Eugene. The Wildcats won the last two meetings, but before that dropped five straight. Though both these teams have porous secondaries (Arizona ranks No. 119 vs. the pass and Oregon is No. 114), the key to winning this game may be stopping the run. The common thread in both teams’ losses this year have been low-marks in rushing yards: The Wildcats’ only two defeats came when it rushed for fewer than 100 yards (77 vs. USC and 80 vs. UCLA), while the Ducks’ lowest rushing total of 2014 (144) came in their loss to, guess who, Arizona. Potential heroes are a pair of true-freshmen running backs: Oregon’s Royce Freeman (#21) and Arizona’s Nick Wilson (#28), both lead their respective teams in rushing and both have passed the 1000-yard mark. The game changer might be Wildcat linebacker Scooby Wright III, No. 4 in the FBS in tackles (140), No. 3 in sacks (14) and No. 1 in tackles for a loss (28). The Ducks haven’t won a Pac-12 title since 2011, while the Wildcats have only won the Pac-12 once, in 1993, when they shared the crown with USC and UCLA.
Saturday, Dec. 6
12:00PM ET, ABC: IOWA STATE (2-9) at No. 3 TCU (10-1): These two have met five times previously and twice as Big 12 members. TCU holds a 1-4 all-time advantage, but Iowa State won 37-23 the last time they played in Fort Worth. With each of the other five CFB Playoff contenders playing a top 20 ranked team, TCU needs to stomp Iowa State to validate its No. 3 ranking and retain the confidence of the committee. Anything less could mean a fall from the bracket. The good news is, the Cyclones have struggled on both sides of the ball this season, ranking No. 93 in scoring offense and No. 115 in scoring defense. This game shouldn’t even be close but, and this may be the biggest but of the season, Iowa State’s sole statistical strength, it’s No. 44-ranked pass offense, is an interesting matchup for a TCU secondary that ranks No. 95. Keep in mind that the Frogs have dined out on takeaways this season, ranked No. 2 in the FBS with 34. If they don’t create turnovers (and extra scores) against an Iowa State team that ranks No. 18 in giveaways with only 14, anything could happen, especially if the Frogs suffer an unscripted string of mistakes.
12:00PM ET, ESPN2: CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP: LOUISIANA TECH (8-4) at No. 24 MARSHALL (11-1): The first-ever football meeting between the two, Marshall hasn’t won a conference title since winning the MAC in 2002 while Louisiana Tech last captured a league crown in 2011 when it won the WAC. This game will come down to which defense can shut down which prolific offense. What’s interesting is the Thundering Herd defense, a unit which gave up 516-yards passing in last week’s loss to Western Kentucky, taking on a Louisiana Tech passing attack that ranks No. 12 in the nation. On the flip side, Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato (#12) tied a career-worst mark last week by throwing four interceptions. This sets up for an intriguing matchup with a Louisiana Tech secondary that ranks No. 2 in the FBS in interceptions (24). Keep an eye on Bulldog safety Xavier Woods and corner Adarius Barnes, who have five picks apiece this season.
12:00PM ET, ESPN: HOUSTON (7-4) at CINCINNATI (8-3): Cincinnati needs to win this game to share the American Athletic title with Memphis (and UCF if it beats ECU on Thursday night). The Cougars have lost four straight to the Bearcats, last winning in 1999. Houston hasn’t visited Cincinnati since 2002 and hasn’t won there since 1971, dropping five straight. Tune in to this one to see Houston’s No. 11-ranked pass defense tested against Cincinnati’s No. 14-ranked passing attack, a unit that’s struggled in its last two games at UConn and Temple, averaging 175 air yards. This puts the pressure squarely on Bearcat quarterback Gunner Kiel (#11) who is No. 17 in the nation in passer rating (150.38). On the flip side, how good will Houston’s No. 82-ranked aerial attack look against a Cincinnati secondary that ranks No. 104? Remember that the Cougars’ quarterback is Greg Ward (#1), a kid who started the season as a wide receiver.
3:30PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: OKLAHOMA STATE (5-6) at No. 20 OKLAHOMA (8-3): The year’s Bedlam game will decide whether Oklahoma State achieves bowl-eligible status for the ninth consecutive season, last missing out in 2005 when it finished 4-7. The Cowboys travel to Norman in the midst of a five-game losing streak straight, last winning Oct. 11 at Kansas. The key to a win here is stopping Oklahoma’s wicked running attack, anchored by true-freshman running back Samaje Perine (#32), fresh off setting the NCAA FBS single-game rushing record (427) two weeks ago vs. Kansas. The common thread running through the Sooners’ three losses this year have been a posting fewer than 200-yards rushing: 152 at TCU, 198 vs. K-State and 171 at Baylor. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, held its first 10 opponents to an average of fewer than 140 yards rushing until facing Baylor two weeks ago and coughing up 317. Check out Oklahoma State sophomore defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (#38), No. 14 in the FBS in tackles for a loss (16.5) and No. 8 in sacks (11). Despite hitting double-digit wins three of their last five seasons, the Cowboys have only beaten the Sooners once in the last 11 tries and haven’t won in Norman since 2001.
4:00PM ET, CBS: SEC CHAMPIONSHIP: No. 1 ALABAMA (11-1) vs. No. 16 MISSOURI (10-2) (at Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.): These two have only met four times in history and once since 1978, in 2012 when Alabama won 42-10 during Missouri’s inaugural SEC campaign. Don’t be fooled by the less-than-sexy cover of what could be a classic, pitting two of the best defenses in the SEC against one another. The key to knocking off Alabama is stopping it on third down. It’s no coincidence that its season lows on third down came in its only loss and in its multiple near misses: 37.5% in the loss to Ole Miss, 26.7% in the one-point win at Arkansas and 35.7% in the five-point win vs. Mississippi State. All well below the Tide’s season average of 52.6% (No. 5 in the FBS). Missouri ranks No. 22 in stopping opponents on third down (34.7%), only allowing a team a better than 50% once, in the 34-0 loss to Georgia (57.1%). Check out Missouri defensive end Shane Ray (#56), No. 6 in the FBS in sacks (12) and No. 3 in tackles for a loss (20.5). The Tigers haven’t beaten the Tide since 1975 and haven’t won a conference title since capturing a share of the Big Eight championship in 1969.
7:45PM ET, ESPN: No. 9 KANSAS STATE (9-2) at No. 6 BAYLOR (10-1): Ironically, the last time these two met in Waco unranked Baylor whipped No. 2 K-State 52-24, squashing the Wildcats’ national title hopes. This time it’s K-State’s opportunity to play the spoiler against a Baylor team that needs a huge win to try and impress a CFB Playoff committee that seems bound and determined to make the Bears play for their weak non-conference schedule. For the Wildcats to have a chance they’ll need to torch Baylor’s secondary, a unit that ranks No. 103 in the FBS and gave up a whopping 609 yards through the air in its near miss vs. Texas Tech last weekend. On the flip side, K-State’s No. 16-ranked scoring defense will have to pull out all the punches to stop the Baylor O, averaging 49.8 points per game, the most in the nation. The key combination in a potential upset is Wildcat quarterback Jake Waters (#15), No. 11 in the FBS in passer rating (154.93) and wide receiver Tyler Lockett (#16), the No. 6 guy in the country in yards per game (108.5). The visitor has only won once in the last six games of this series, last season when Baylor won 35-25 in Manhattan.
8:00PM ET, ABC: ACC CHAMPIONSHIP: No. 4 FLORIDA STATE (12-0) vs. No. 11 GEORGIA TECH (10-2) (at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.): These two last met in the 2012 ACC title game, a contest No. 13 Florida State won 21-15 over unranked Georgia Tech. This game will come down to Florida State stopping the Yellow Jackets’ No. 4-ranked rushing offense (powered by the option) and Georgia Tech shutting down the Seminoles’ No. 13-ranked passing attack. Neither of these teams have stellar defenses so expect a high score. Where the Yellow Jackets do have an edge in is turnover margin, where they rank No. 9 vs. Florida State’s No. 94 rank. What it comes down to is Georgia Tech’s 27 takeaways (No. 12 in the nation) vs. the Seminoles’ 27 giveaways (No. 118). Is this the game when FSU’s luck finally runs out? Either way, the Noles need a big win here, something that will either secure their No. 4 spot in the rankings or improve it. A loss means no playoff and a tight win keeps things way too interesting. The Yellow Jackets won back-to-back games in 2008-09 but before that dropped 12 straight to the Seminoles. Georgia Tech last won the ACC in 2009.
8:17PM ET, FOX: BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP: No. 13 WISCONSIN (10-2) vs. No. 5 OHIO STATE (11-1) (at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.): Wisconsin has dropped three straight and six of the last seven to Ohio State. First things first, how much will Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett’s season-ending injury effect the Buckeyes’ quest for their first conference title since 2010? Barrett’s 2,834 yards passing and 938 yards rushing account for 62% of Ohio State’s total offensive output this season, making him a difficult guy to replace. Not only does backup Cardale Jones (#12) have only 19 attempts as a college quarterback, the playbook shrinks with Barrett’s loss, putting tremendous pressure on leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott (#15) to carry the load. Remember that Wisconsin’s defense ranks No. 4 in scoring, No. 8 vs. the run and No. 2 against the pass. Though all this is fascinating, the most critical matchup in this game might be on the other side of the ball, where Ohio State’s defense will have to find a way to contain the Badgers’ No. 3-ranked ground attack anchored by Melvin Gordon (#25), who leads the nation in yards (2,260) and yards per game (188.3). The Buckeyes’ defense is ranked No. 40 vs. the run, but late in the season showed signs of a generous spirit, giving up 218 ground yards to Minnesota and 281 to Indiana.
10:00PM ET, CBS: MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPIONSHIP: FRESNO STATE (6-6) at No. 22 BOISE STATE (10-2): A rematch of the Week 8 game Boise State won 37-27 in Boise, Fresno State has only beaten the Broncos once in the last nine tries, a 41-40 thriller last season. Boise State’s offense ought to slay the Bulldogs’ defense, ranked No. 104 in scoring, No. 106 vs. the run and No. 102 against the pass. Remember that the Broncos are No. 9 in scoring offense, making this look like the biggest mismatch among the seven conference title games. Look for Boise State quarterback Grant Hedrick (#9) and running back Jay Ajayi (#27) to both have big nights. Hedrick is No. 9 nationally in passer rating (158.6), while Ajayi is No. 7 in yards per game (134.9) and No. 2 in touchdowns (24). These two teams shared the 2012 Mountain West title and Fresno State won the title outright last season.