College football championship weekend 2017 breakdown

By Amy Daughters -

Week 14 of the college football schedule is the most meaningful weekend of the season – 18 teams going head-to-head for actual championship titles.

Unlike the mostly futile bowl lineup, these postseason accolades, once earned, will become a part of the permanent history of a program.

Conference championships mean something.

And that’s why tuning in this weekend, regardless of the state of the team you call your own, is highly worthwhile business.

What follows is sweeping game-by-game guide. It’s a faithful companion to take along with you over the landscape of THE championship weekend in college football.

Gird your loins. And enjoy.

Friday, Dec. 1

Pac-12 Championship – (12) Stanford vs. (10) USC – Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. – 8pm EST, ESPN

Series history: USC leads all-time 60-32-3, but Stanford has won three of the last five. The series dates to 1905. This is the second-ever meeting in the postseason – Stanford beat USC 41-22 in the 2015 Pac-12 title game.

Prior conference championships: USC has earned 38 Pac-12 titles, last winning in 2008. Stanford has won 15 times, most recently in 2015.

The matchup: This one will likely come down to which defense will do a better job of managing the opposing offense’s biggest strength. On one side, it’s Stanford’s No. 31 ranked rushing attack taking on USC’s No. 57 ranked rush D. On the other, it’s the Trojans’ No. 19 ranked passing game vs. a Cardinal D ranked No. 64 vs. the pass. Though these aren’t “perfect storm” type matchups – there is the potential for weaknesses to be exposed.

Players to watch: For Stanford: junior running back Bryce Love (#20), the No. 2 back in the FBS in yards per game (168) and junior strong safety Justin Reid (#8), tied for the third-most interceptions nationally (5). For USC: junior wide receiver Deontay Burnett (#80), his nine TD grabs tie him for the sixth most in the FBS.

Saturday, Dec. 2

American Athletic Championship – (20) Memphis at (14) UCF – Spectrum Stadium, Orlando, Fla. – 12pm EST, ABC

Series history: UFC leads 10-1, Memphis’ only win came in the very first meeting in 1990. The other ten games were all played between 2005-2017. This is the first time the two have met in the postseason.

Prior conference championships: Memphis’ only league title at the FBS level came in 2014 when it won a share of the American Athletic championship. UCF didn’t become an FBS school until 1996, but has already won four conference titles, capturing C-USA crowns in 2007 and 2010 and American Athletic championships in 2013 and 2014 (co-champions).

The matchup: Tune in to see two of the most potent passing attacks in the nation take on a pair of struggling defenses. Memphis is No. 9 in the FBS in passing yards per game while UCF is No. 11. On the flip side, the Tigers’ D is No. 111 nationally vs. the pass while the Knights are No. 96.

Players to watch: For Memphis: senior quarterback Riley Ferguson (#4), No. 6 nationally in both yards per game (318.2) and TD passes (32), senior wide receiver Anthony Miller (#3), No. 5 in yards per game (110.2) and No. 2 in TD catches (14) and senior linebacker Genard Avery (#6), tied for the seventh most tackles for a loss in the FBS (18.5). For UCF: sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton (#10), No. 2 in the nation in passer rating (182.9).

The MAC Championship – Akron vs. Toledo – Ford Field, Detroit, Mich. – 12pm EST, ESPN

Series history: Akron and Toledo met eight times between 1923 and 1947 before taking a 45-year break. They reunited in 1992 when the Zips joined the MAC and have clashed a dozen times since. Toledo leads 11-9 and has won two straight and three of the last five including winning 48-21 earlier this year. This is the first-ever postseason game between the two.

Prior conference championships: Akron’s only FBS league title came in 2005 when it won the MAC. Toledo has won the MAC nine times, the first in 1967 and most recently in 2004.

The matchup: To stay in this one, Akron’s No. 96 ranked rush D will have to contain Toledo’s ground game, ranked No. 27 in the nation. The Zips’ coughed up a season worst 303 rushing yards to the Rockets earlier this season.

Players to watch: For Toledo: senior running back Terry Swanson (#2), leads the team with 1,139 yards and 12 scores, his 103.55 yard per game average is No. 27 in the FBS. For Akron: junior linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III (#5), No. 15 in the nation in total tackles (117).

Conference USA Championship – North Texas at Florida Atlantic – FAU Football Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla., 12pm EST, ESPN 2

Series history: North Texas and FAU first played in 2004, the Owls lead 7-4 overall but have dropped four of the last five. The exception was a 69-31 pounding of the Mean Green earlier this year. This is the first time the two schools have ever met outside of the regular season.

Prior conference championships: North Texas has won a league crown four times since moving up the FBS ranks in 2001. All came consecutively in the Sun Belt from 2001-04. FAU didn’t start its football program until 2001, since then it’s won a single conference championship – the 2007 Sun Belt.

The matchup: FAU’s No. 6 ranked rushing attack could potentially have a heyday vs. a North Texas defense that ranks a dismal No. 104 against the run. The Owls have scored six 300-plus yard rushing games including hanging up a cool 447 (and seven rushing TDs) on the Mean Green in October.

Players to watch: For FAU: sophomore running back Devin Singletary (#5), No. 1 in the nation in rushing TDs (26) and No. 5 in yards per game (136) and junior linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (#2), No. 10 in the FBS in total tackles (123).

Big 12 Championship – (11) TCU vs. (3) Oklahoma – AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas – 12:30pm EST, FOX

Series history: TCU and Oklahoma first clashed in 1944 in Oklahoma City. The Sooners lead 12-5 and have won three straight, including earlier this season. The Horned Frogs’ only win in the last seven meetings came in 2014 in Fort Worth. This is the first-ever postseason game between the two.

Prior conference championships: In the 21-year history of the Big 12, Oklahoma has earned 10 titles including back-to-back crowns in 2015-16. TCU won a share of the Big 12 in 2014, but hasn’t won an outright conference championship since capturing the Mountain West in 2011.

The matchup: Only one opponent on TCU’s 2017 slate managed to gain more than 175 ground yards on the Frogs – Oklahoma, which rushed for 200 in its 38-20 win in November. TCU’s upset bid will depend on its defense’s ability (No. 18 in the FBS in yards per game allowed) to put the kibosh on Oklahoma’s offense (No. 1 in yards per game gained).

Players to watch: For Oklahoma: senior quarterback Baker Mayfield (#6), No. 1 in passer rating (203.25) and yards per attempt (11.8). For TCU: senior defensive end Mat Boesen (#9), tied for the third most sacks in the FBS (11.5).

SEC Championship – (6) Georgia vs. (2) Auburn – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga. – 4pm EST, CBS

Series history: Georgia and Auburn first played in 1892 and have met consecutively since 1944. In all that time, they’ve never played outside of the regular season. The Bulldogs lead 57-56-8 and have won three of the last five, but fell 40-17 in November.

Prior conference championships: Georgia has won the SEC 12 times, last winning in 2005. Auburn has eight SEC crowns and last won it all in 2013.

The matchup: Georgia lays claim to the No. 9 ranked rushing attack in college football, averaging 265.67 yards per game. Auburn’s defense, ranked No. 21 vs. the run, managed somehow, someway, to hold the Bulldogs to 46 rushing yards in its huge upset win earlier this season. The only other defense to come close vs. Georgia was Notre Dame, which held the Bulldogs to 185 yards on the ground. Georgia must find a way to do what it does best, and worst, vs. Auburn – run the ball.

Players to watch: For Georgia: senior running backs Nick Chubb (#27) and Sony Michel (#1), they’ve combined for 26 TDs this season. For Auburn: junior outside linebacker Jeff Holland (#4), leads the team in sacks (9) and tackles for a loss (12) and junior running back Kerryon Johnson (#21), tied for the fifth-most rushing TDs in the nation (17). Johnson’s status is day-to-day after suffering a shoulder injury vs. Alabama.

Mountain West Championship – (25) Fresno State at Boise State – 7:45pm EST, Albertson’s Stadium, Boise, Idaho – 7:45pm EST, ESPN

Series history: Boise State leads 13-6. The two met as recently as Nov. 25, 2017 – a 28-17 Bulldog win in Fresno. The only other postseason meeting was the 2014 Mountain West championship, a game the Broncos won 28-14.

Prior conference championships: Boise State has won a conference crown twice since joining the Mountain West in 2011, most recently in 2014. This is Fresno State’s third appearance in the MWC title game in five years, it’s most recent victory was in 2013.

The matchup: Both teams’ rushing defenses are ranked in the top 20 in the FBS – Fresno at No. 15 and Boise at No. 19. This one may come down to which quarterback can be more effective, a battle the Bulldogs won last weekend in Fresno.

Players to watch: For Fresno State: junior quarterback Marcus McMaryion (#6) and sophomore running back Jeffrey Allison (#9), tied for 11 most solo tackles in the FBS (66). For Boise State: junior quarterback Brett Rypien (#4) – former Washington Redskin QB Mark Rypien’s nephew – and senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson (#1), No. 12 in the nation in yards per game (95.2).

ACC Championship – (7) Miami Fla. vs. (1) Clemson – Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. – 8pm EST, ABC

Series history: Miami and Clemson have played 10 times since first meeting in 1945. The Hurricanes lead 6-4, but have split the last four. This is the first-ever title game between the two programs. They also met in the 1951/52 Gator Bowl (Miami won 14-0) and the 1950/51 Orange Bowl (Clemson won 14-14).

Prior conference championships: Miami has won nine Big East championships, but hasn’t captured a league crown since 2001. Clemson has won the ACC 16 times, most recently earning back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016.

The matchup: What stood out in Pitt’s stunning upset of Miami was the Panthers’ rush defense, holding the Hurricanes to a mere 45 ground yards. The only other times Miami’s been held to fewer than 100 yards rushing in 2017 was in two other close calls – 83 in the 24-20 win over Florida State and 59 in the 24-19 win over North Carolina. Usher in Clemson’s rushing defense, ranked No. 14 in the nation, and the alarm bells start ringing.

Players to watch: For Miami: sophomore running back Travis Homer (#24), leads the team in rushing with 861 yards and seven scores. For Clemson: sophomore defensive end Clelin Ferrell (#99), No. 2 in the ACC in both tackles for a loss (16) and sacks (8.5).

Big Ten Championship – (8) Ohio State vs. (4) Wisconsin – Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind. – 8pm, FOX

Series history: Ohio State holds a dominating 58-18-5 lead over Wisconsin all-time. The series started in 1913 and the Buckeyes have won five straight. The only other postseason meeting was the 2014 Big Ten title game, a 59-0 shutout win for OSU.

Prior conference championships: Ohio State has won the Big Ten 35 times vs. Wisconsin’s 14. The Badgers’ most recent title came in 2012.

The matchup: Though Wisconsin rightly gets lots of press for its always potent rushing attack (No. 18 in the FBS), its defense is outstanding. How good is it? How about No. 1 in the FBS vs. the run and No. 2 vs. the pass. Remember, those are national rankings. This one comes down to the No. 1 scoring defense in the Big Ten (the Badgers have held opponents to 12 points per game) taking on the No. 1 scoring offense (the Buckeyes’ O has averaged a cool 43.8 points per game).

Players to watch: For Wisconsin: freshman running back Jonathan Taylor (#23), his 150.50 yards per game is in No. 3 in the FBS ranks. For Ohio State: freshman running back J.K. Dobbins (#2), he’s rushed for 100-plus five times this season, two of his least productive outings were in losses to (3) Oklahoma (72 yards) and Iowa (51 yards).

Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference-College Football. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com

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Comments (4)

What I think will happen:
USC beats Stanford but due to their rankings & two loses, neither get in. USC lost to to Wash St then got trimmed by a bad Oregon St team 38-10 (bad loss).Stanford is making waves again but lost earlier in the season to USC 42-24 then lost to San Diego St, the the best looking loss.

Oklahoma beats TCU, Hornfrogs have no chance of getting in if they win.

Auburn beats Georgia again, either team will get in if they win.

Clemson beats The U, really, no contest. The Tigers are just that much better. Either team will get in if they win.

The Ohio State beats Wisconsin. Committee is just waiting for Wisconsin to lose.

Clemson
Oklahoma
Auburn
The Ohio State

What I would like to see happen:
TCU beats Oklahoma, takes out the Big-12 teams from CFP.
The Ohio State beats Wisconsin but not by much, they then match Buckeyes schedule with Bama’s.

So you have Clemson, Auburn & why not just throw Buckeyes & Bama in as well. Yes, we will have two SEC teams in the CFP & of course all hell will break lose but right now you have three SEC teams in the top 6, only one from the Pac-12 in the top 10, one from the Big-12 in the top 10 & three from the BIG in the top 10, yet they say the SEC is down this year.

People can bash Bama schedule all they like, but keep in mind a couple of things. 1st Bama beat #3 FSU team at the 1st of the year, yes, it does have merit. FSU could’ve played with anyone at the 1st of the season, due to their QB going down, season has not been the same. Bama also beat #25 No State that is playing in the MWC against Boise St, you can add them as a team with a pulse. Beat #24 LSU & #16 Miss St, yes, it was a close one but they did find a way to come back & win. Unlike a Oklahoma team that lost to Iowa St.
The Ohio State can get in as well, losing to Oklahoma the way they did I don’t think is a big deal but losing to Iowa 55-17 is a bad loss!
With the Buckeyes at #2 SOS & Bama at #8 SOS, that devours Stanford at #12 or USC at #22 so no, Pac-12 is out for a reason.

Unfortunately lately, Bama is not passing the eye exam. Even though they have been #1 for most of the season,they had their chance with Auburn & lost. Not sure if they could even beat a Clemson, Oklahoma, Auburn (again) or The Ohio State right now. Defense is so then & Miss St & Auburn showed Bama can be beat, it does not take much, just control the clock & keep the defense freshman on the field, push the offense around a little & get to Hurts but anything can change before January 1st.

Wishful thinking.
Clemson
Auburn
The Ohio State
Bama

When considering your points on Bama, I think your point on FSU is valid. Who knows how good FSU would have been if they had a quarterback this year. Bama beat them while their quarterback was healthy (at least for 55 minutes) so you can at least say FSU had a pulse when they played them, despite FSU being 5-6. I disagree with your Fresno State point. They are only ranked #25 because the committee needs to back up their argument of putting Alabama over any of the eventual 2-loss conference champions by saying Alabama beat 3 top 25 teams. Metrics would tell you both Fresno and Miss St have no business being in the top 25. Only reason they are there is committee can’t otherwise put Alabama in playoff if they only have 1 top 25 win.

Jeff,

Respected!
I’m not sure if I agree with your analogy on No State for this reason. Pushing Miss St aside, they did fall 9 spots down to #23 after playing their rival & are still 8-4.
Rankings have No State at #25 & right behind them they have San Diego St at #26 or #27, depending on what poll. Now, both teams have won their last 4 games but No State beat the Aztecs 27-3 5 weeks ago plus they’re playing in the MWC game. I can understand where you are coming from but if it wasn’t for No State not being in the top 25, then it would’ve been San Diego St. So I think the committee got this one right, of course they’re going to cover their ass for any possibility….lol.