Previewing College Football’s 2016 Championship Weekend

December 2, 2016 • Jon Lowe • Front Page, Lists, NCAA, Predictions, Preview

There is a ton of controversy going on in the world of college football.

So many debates, and so much to be answered in the next several days.

But for now, teams including Clemson, Washington, Wisconsin, Penn State, Colorado, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will all just need to take care of business Saturday (or Friday for the Pac-12) and hope for the best.

I’m not going to focus on situations here, and what a Wisconsin win and Oklahoma loss means, etc., etc. Some people just want general info on the games happening this weekend, and not what will happen next Tuesday. If that’s what you want, you’ve found it, as I will be discussing everything from the AAC to the Sun Belt Championships right here.

(Note, rankings are based on last week’s Playoff rankings, as this was written prior to the new rak

AAC Championship: Temple vs. #19 Navy

Navy’s regular season is not over yet due to the annual Army-Navy game coming up a week from Saturday, but this game is just for a conference title, and maybe a shot at a high level bowl game. With the loss of Keenan Reynolds to graduation, most people probably counted out Navy and had given the clear edge to Houston for winning the conference, but after Navy beat Houston, everything went smoothly. Houston then went on to lose to SMU and Memphis, and is now out, leaving Navy as the winner of the AAC West.

Temple, meanwhile, beat South Florida, who has a better overall record, but lost in the game that counted most. Temple also narrowly lost to Penn State in week three, something most people outside of the state don’t know about.

As far as the match-ups go, the side of the ball to watch is when Navy is on offense. Navy rarely throws the football, but manages to still have a top 30 offense (top 25% of FBS). Temple, meanwhile, followed three shutout victories to having the third-best defense in the nation, and have a middle of the pack offense. Granted, Temple hasn’t played the toughest of offenses, and managed to miss out on Houston, Navy and Tulsa from the West Division, and played Penn State before they hit their stride, but three shutouts is more than teams like Alabama and Wisconsin.

This game will be decided by whether or not Navy’s rushing attack, led by Will Worth, will be able to get through the Temple defense. I’m going with Navy here though. Final score:  Navy 21, Temple 17.

ACC Championship: #23 Virginia Tech vs. #3 Clemson

Usually how things work in the ACC is the winner of the annual Clemson-Florida State game gets to face off against the unbelievable parity of the Coastal Division, where this year Virginia Tech escaped a four-way tie for first. They snuck into the Top 25 CFB Playoff rankings in this week’s updated rankings, too.

Once North Carolina lost to NC State, Virginia Tech had it sealed either way, but a win over the only truly bad team in the conference, the Virginia Cavaliers, put them in the most boring Power Five championship game this year. Yes, Clemson has struggled at times, but outside of that unusual stumble with the Pittsburgh Panthers, Clemson is undefeated, including a win over Louisville and potential Heisman-winner Lamar Jackson. Clemson’s schedule has slowly gotten tougher, with Troy having a possibility of 10 wins, and Auburn being better than expected, but they still hang on to that worse and worse Louisville win as their pride and joy. Virginia Tech has two bad losses, along with a loss to Tennessee, with a blowout victory at North Carolina as their best win.

Don’t get me wrong, Virginia Tech’s numbers show they are a top 25 team, and have the ability to beat Clemson, but it’s not likely. Virginia Tech is in the top 40 in offense, and top 20 in defense, and has held 10 of their 12 opponents to 31 or less points. Clemson, meanwhile, is top 12 in both categories, and offensively are led by quarterback and potential No. 1 pick DeShaun Watson.

There is a huge chunk of this team, both on offense and defense, that contended for the national title last year, and until they run into Alabama again, I don’t see a reason for them to not be favored.  Final score: Clemson 40, Virginia Tech 29.

Big Ten Championship: #7 Penn State vs. #6 Wisconsin

This is what screwed up everybody when it comes to picking a final four for the playoff, and both of these teams deserve a chance to play for a national title. Wisconsin has only lost by a combined 14 points to Michigan and Ohio State (and the Buckeyes needed overtime, again), where Penn State lost early at Pittsburgh, then got crushed in Ann Arbor. As far as strength of schedule so far, Wisconsin has done better, harnessing wins over LSU, at Michigan State, Nebraska, and at Iowa, and all of those teams have at one point been borderline top 10 at least the very least. Penn State of course has their win over the Ohio State Buckeyes, but not much else to hold on to. Wisconsin is riding a dominating six-game winning streak, where Penn State has not lost since the conference opener at Michigan.

This is a battle of offense vs. defense, and Wisconsin’s defense is just as good as Alabama’s. For scoring defense, everybody has been held to just 23 points in regulation, and that was Ohio State (who got seven more in OT). Everybody else (including Michigan) had 20 or less, and that 20-pointer came in garbage time (13.67 PPG including OT). Wisconsin forces turnovers and puts pressure on the quarterback, and Penn State is not the most conservative team. Running back Saquon Barkley might be the Big Ten Player of the Year, but outside linebacker T.J. Watt would be up there for Defensive Player of the Year if not for Jabril Peppers of Michigan.

I like this Penn State team, but Wisconsin’s strength is better than Penn State’s, and I’m going with the Badgers. Final score: Wisconsin 20, Penn State 14.

BIG 12 “Championship”: #10 Oklahoma State vs. #9 Oklahoma

This game isn’t really a championship game, but it may as well be. The Big 12 has been fortunate over recent seasons, with TCU playing Baylor in years past, etc., that they are able to have a de facto championship going on during championship weekend. In Bedlam, Oklahoma plays Oklahoma State, and the winner will be 10-2 overall and become conference champions.

Overall, both of these teams don’t deserve to get in over any Big Ten school (except maybe Penn State), but enough chaos could make it happen. This game will result in a New Year’s six bowl berth, and is yet another important rivalry game for a Big 12 title.

If this isn’t a shootout, then the force-field preventing anybody from learning how to play defense west of Lincoln will be shut down.  Two top 15 offenses and two (approximately) 90th ranked defenses are going at it, and I don’t know how anybody will have less than 31 points. Oklahoma has the better offense, led by quarterback Baker Mayfield, receiver Dede Westbrook and the two-headed monster at running back, but Oklahoma State is no slouch. This team has never scored less than 24, and has never scored less than 31 when victorious.

I like Oklahoma more because of home-field advantage and star power, but it will be a close one, and a shootout. Final score: Oklahoma 49, Oklahoma State 42.

Conference USA Championship: Louisiana Tech vs. Western Kentucky

I’m not going to spend as much time on these teams, and there really is no reason to as none of them have a shot at doing anything more special than winning this game. Louisiana Tech won the first game these teams played, with a final score of 55 to 52. That game was one of four times the Bulldogs put up more than 50 points, which led them to have the seventh ranked offense in the nation right now.

This time, I’m giving the edge to Western Kentucky, as they have a better overall offense-to-defense ratio than Louisiana Tech (meaning the offense and defense combine to be closer to the top than Louisiana Tech’s), and lost the first time and are going to be looking for revenge.

I’m going to guess it will be a shootout again, but I really don’t know for sure. Final score: Western Kentucky 45, Louisiana Tech 39.

Mid-American Conference Championship: Ohio vs. #17 Western Michigan

A win against Ohio, and the Western Michigan Broncos are likely headed to a game on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. They will be the only undefeated team outside of Alabama, and should be heavy favorites to win this game. Western Michigan also has wins over two Big Ten schools, Northwestern and Illinois, and are in the top 25% with both offense and defense. Ohio meanwhile is a middle of the pack team that took advantage of being in the much weaker half of the conference, and has losses to teams including Texas State, Eastern and Central Michigan.

Ohio has a pretty good defense, but their offense is not up to par to score much on Western Michigan, and the Broncos should get through this week undefeated. Final score: Western Michigan 38, Ohio 7.

Mountain West Championship: San Diego State vs. Wyoming

Due to a well-timed win by the Wyoming Cowboys over Boise State, they are going to be playing for the Mountain West Championship. While this conference doesn’t have any incredible, stand-out teams, especially with Boise State losing to Air Force Saturday, it is arguably the best non-Power Five conference top to bottom. Overall, these teams are polar opposites defensively, with Wyoming being ranked #116, and San Diego State at #11, but they are much closer offensively. Wyoming basically hopes to outscore you to win, whereas San Diego State is the more complete team.

If Wyoming is feeling it, like they did against Boise State, I’d pick the Cowboys, but the safe bet is San Diego State, and that’s what I’m going to do. Final score: San Diego State 42, Wyoming 30.

PAC-12 Championship: #8 Colorado vs. #4 Washington

This is the second-most interesting conference title game, and it makes things a lot easier for the Saturday viewers since this game is on a Friday. This game is huge for the Big Ten, as a Washington loss will allow a Big Ten Champion to easily move into the Final Four. Both teams have losses to USC this season, and the difference here is Colorado actually played tough teams non-conference, and lost to Michigan in Ann Arbor because of it. Had they played a team like Kentucky instead, they would be just as good as the Huskies. That said, both of these teams earned the right to be in this game.

As far as stats go, this game is more likely to see both teams under 30 points each. Colorado and Washington are two of the few schools out west that actually plays defense, and with that they will be able to hold each other down somewhat. The key question mark here is can Colorado stop Washington’s offense and limit turnovers? Washington State, albeit with a bad defense, couldn’t stop Washington early and made some bad decisions that led to zero points. If Colorado can prove to play decent defense and coach better than Mike Leach, they can win this game.

I’m going with the upset, and I have a feeling this will be the game with a controversial call or two. Final score: Colorado 24, Washington 23.

SEC Championship: #15 Florida vs. #1 Alabama

This is a rematch of last year’s championship, where Alabama got through to the playoff for probably the 100th year in a row. This year, Alabama can take it easy, as they can’t do anything in this game that will get them knocked out of the playoff. Florida’s offense is about as good as Wyoming’s defense, and because of that I don’t think they will score more than 10 points. Alabama could have this game out of reach by the end of the first quarter if everything goes alright, and I think Florida has enough fight to “stay in it” until the second half. Florida does have the sixth-ranked defense, after all.

However, Alabama’s is first, and their offense is top 20. Final score: Alabama 35, Florida 7.

Sun Belt “Championship”

So, the Sun Belt is the only conference besides the Big 12 without a conference championship game, and looking at the standings, Troy and Arkansas State both have a chance to make a three-way tie for first with Appalachian State. Troy also has a chance for 10 wins, with one loss to Clemson.

Troy lost to Arkansas State, Appalachian State lost to Troy, and Appalachian State did not play Arkansas State. Therefore, Arkansas State should win the conference if they beat 2-9 Texas State Saturday, right? This would be intriguing if it was the Big 12, but it’s the Sun Belt, so I’m not going to think to hard about it. Final statement on this, Arkansas State is favored to win the Sun Belt.

Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

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