Conference Championship Preview

Oct 17, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) has some words for Georgia defensive back Tyrique Stevenson (7) after scoring a touchdown on him during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

It has been a wild season just like the rest of 2020 but we have finally made it through the regular season and have one last step before determining who will compete for the National Championship. All four teams currently in the top four will be competing this weekend. Let’s dive in to the games for a little preview and prediction.

Oregon (3-2) vs #13 USC (5-0)
Friday December 18th
8:00 EST FOX
USC -3 O/U 64.5

The Pac-12 gets lost in the discussion with how they butchered the start of the season and only got in five games. You also have Oregon and Washington cancelling their game last week which led to Washington not being able to play this weekend and Oregon stepping in. I thought this Oregon would play better this season as they were my pick to win the conference. They still have a good enough defense to compete here. On the USC side, they still have the smallest of hope that they can sneak their way into the College Football Playoff. It would take a miracle as Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Oklahoma would all have to win but there still is a chance. Kedon Slovis started out the season trying to fight through the rust of a long offseason but still managed to throw for 381 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona State. The passing offense has continued to improve every game after that. The offensive line is much improved and probably the top line in the conference. That paired with Oregon struggling to get in the backfield in five games leads you to believe that Slovis will have all day to pick apart this defense. One thing to look out for is if USC can get any sort of running game going. That is really the area that has plagued this Oregon defense all year long so it would be smart to try to mix in some running plays to make things easier on Slovis.

On the other side, Oregon has to figure out how to finish drives. Against Cal, four drives that made it onto Cal’s side of the field ended up with only three points. They have shown that they can move the ball but can they consistently put points up on the board to keep up with the Trojans. USC is only allowing touchdowns on 58.3% of possessions that enter the red zone. The key target when the Ducks get there will be tight end Hunter Kampmoyer. If there is a weakness in this Trojan defense, it can be found up the middle.

Prediction: Oregon 27 USC 34

#14 Northwestern (6-1) vs #4 Ohio State (5-0)
Saturday December 19th
12:00 EST FOX
Ohio State -19.5 O/U 56.5

Moving on to Saturday, we open up with the Big Ten Championship where Ohio State tries to cement their place in the College Football Playoff. Northwestern has shown that they can stifle offenses this season but they haven’t had to go up against a team like Ohio State yet. This team attacks you multiple ways but it starts with the guys on the outside. There are reports that the Buckeyes may be without one of their starts, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, but I think one of the two is enough to still take over this game. Justin Fields is hard to handle with his ability to run and pass the ball so the Northwestern linebackers will be tested on how they can contain. They have three guys to go to there with Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher teaming up for 65 tackles each with Chris Bergin not far behind with 58.

When Northwestern has the ball, I really question what they are going to do to put points on the board. Indiana exposed the Ohio State secondary a bit in the second half of that game but this team doesn’t really have that going for them. Peyton Ramsey does a good job of managing the game but he will be pressured early and often from this Buckeye front seven. They have more sacks in their five games, than eight other Big Ten schools that played six or seven games.

Prediction: Northwestern 13 Ohio State 45

#10 Oklahoma (7-2) vs #6 Iowa State (8-2)
Saturday December 19th
12:00 EST ABC
Oklahoma -6.5 O/U 58.5

This game seems to be the same old story of the Big 12. Oklahoma slips up early on in conference play, the defense improves throughout the year, and rolls to another championship game win. They have won every Big 12 championship game since Lincoln Riley got to town (going for 6 straight). This will be a test to see which quarterback can outduel the other. Both defenses are allowing under 105 rushing yards per game. So even though Iowa State wants to run the ball and has the best back in the league with Breece Hall, I don’t think that is the recipe for victory if you are the cyclones. The area that they outmatch pretty much everyone in the country is passing in the middle of the field. We talked about it on The Final Drive when they played West Virginia. It is very difficult as a defense to defend three different tight ends that all stand at 6’6 or taller. Brock Purdy has to be clean with the football and try to attack the middle of the Oklahoma defense.

For Oklahoma, this is the first year that they won’t have someone winning or being invited to the Heisman ceremony in what seems like a decade. Spencer Rattler showed is youth early on in the season including the 37-30 loss to the Cyclones. He was benched in the first half of the Texas game and has looked like a different quarterback since. He has thrown for at least 70% on completions in three of his last four games and really showed out in the blowout win against Oklahoma State. If the defense can create a turnover or two, I think Rattler has enough of an advantage to lead the Sooners to a double digit victory.

Prediction: Oklahoma 37 Iowa State 28

#3 Clemson (9-1) vs #2 Notre Dame (10-0)
Saturday December 19th
4:00 EST ABC
Clemson -10.5 O/U 60.5

This is the game I’m most excited for. If Clemson wins, both teams probably stay in the top four of the ranking. If Notre Dame is able to take down the Tigers for a second time, that most likely opens up a spot for someone else. In that scenario, I think Texas A&M probably slides in but it depends on what else happens. In 16 years off the ACC Championship games, this is the first matchup between top five teams. We were gifted with the preview in the first game of the season ending in a 47-40 double overtime victory for Notre Dame. The media has talked the last week about how that game was played without Trevor Lawrence and Notre Dame has to play the real Clemson now. That is highly disrespectful to this Fighting Irish squad. Vegas also agrees the media and put this as a double digit spread. That is a lot of value for a team with a win in this matchup this year. Lawrence is a great quarterback and will be the number one overall pick in the draft, but D.J. Ulungelelei did not play bad in South Bend. He threw for 439 yards and 2 touchdowns. Trevor Lawrence has never reached that number passing yards in a game! The area that plagued the Tigers in that game is their inability to run the football with Travis Etienne. He only totaled 28 yards on 18 carries and also lost a fumble. That wasn’t a fluke. Notre Dame thrives on stopping the run. They stopped a UNC team with two 1,000 yard rushers to 87 rushing yards. Michael Carter only had 57 and followed it up last week with 308 yards against a top ten Miami team. The only area that I think we will see improvement on the offense with Lawrence in the game is on third down. They were 4-15 in the first matchup. If he is able to convert a few more and keep this offense on the field, I think they might be able to wear down Notre Dame.

The reason I think Clemson will rebound here is the players that will be on the defensive side. Tyler Davis did not suit up on that defensive line in the first game and Notre Dame is missing their center, Jarrett Patterson. If he is able to create chaos up the middle, it may throw a wrench into what the Irish want to do. Mike Jones is probably their most athletic linebacker and he also missed the first game. He will be tasked with keeping an eye on the middle of the field as Michael Mayer caught five passes for 67 yards and Ian Book ran for 67 more. These two players along with Andrew Booth who got hurt during that game will play a big difference in the outcome.

Prediction: Clemson 27 Notre Dame 23

#1 Alabama (10-0) vs #7 Florida (8-2)
Saturday December 19th
8:00 EST CBS
Alabama -17.5 O/U 73.5

This game is a little bit of a let down now because I don’t think Florida can find their way into a playoff spot. They can still player spoiler for Alabama trying to complete a perfect season. The Heisman is what is really on the line this week. The top three in odds to take home the award will all be taking the field in Atlanta. Mac Jones leads the way even though I think DeVonta Smith probably deserves more praise than he is getting. Kyle Trask follows up in third after throwing for 40 touchdowns in ten games played this year. The Gators were definitely looking ahead to this game last week when the fell to LSU 37-34. The offense should look improved as they get Kyle Pitts back in the mix. He has dominated this year with 641 yards and 11 touchdowns in only seven games played. Kyle Trask will be able to pressure these Alabama corners unlike they have been tested this year. However, with a one dimensional offense, Alabama can sit back and let their defensive line create pressure without worrying about the run. The team as a whole has only been able to put up 1,200 yards on the ground. Compare that to the UNC team I talked about earlier. They almost have two players that reached that total. The Crimson Tide defense showed against a similar offensive scheme from Mississippi State, they were content sitting in shallow zones, letting guys runs crossers, and swarm tackle to not allow big plays. The offensive line is going to have their hands full and Trask doesn’t have the ability to move scramble so it could be a long night for him. If he does give in to the pressure and throws into coverage creating a turnover or two, Alabama will roll to an BIG victory. For the Gators to win, Trask has to play a near perfect game.

The reason Trask has to play near perfect is because I’m not sure there is a way for Florida to slow down the Alabama offense. Mac Jones is completing over 77% of his passes and the Gator secondary has shown its weaknesses all season long, especially in the last few weeks. Tennessee’ Harrison Bailey and LSU’s Max Johnson may be future start but they aren’t there yet. The Gators made them look like Peyton Manning and Joe Burrow.

Prediction: Alabama 52 Florida 31

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