The previous three months of college football have all led to this one week. Funneled out were the inferior teams; all to pave way for the big dogs to clash together to determine a conference champion. Get ready college football fans, this week is going to be one for the ages. Now, on the fringe of what is sure to be a week full of epic match-ups, I take a look at each game, analyzing and predicting along the way.
Temple vs. Houston - AAC
The first game in Saturday’s slate of conference championship games features a pair of cinderella schools in Houston and Temple. Houston boasts one of the NCAA’s best offenses while Temple lays its focus more on the defensive side of the football. Each of these teams have significantly outperformed all expectations for the season, but unfortunately one of these remarkable seasons will have to go. The winner of this game will almost surely receive an at-large bid to a BCS bowl game, while the loser will likely get a bid to the Birmingham Bowl or Boca Raton Bowl; there is a lot riding on this matchup. This game will ultimately come down to whichever team is able to move the ball with more success, so I side with the offensive juggernog, Houston. Temple will keep the game close early on, before Houston blows it open in the third quarter. They will take a two touchdown lead into the fourth quarter and stifle an inspired Temple comeback run to win the AAC and head to a BCS Bowl.
Prediction: Houston beats Temple 31-24
Florida vs. Alabama - SEC
Alabama needs a victory to guarantee itself a spot in the College Football Playoff, while Florida just looks to rebound after a home beatdown by the hands of arch rival Florida State. Momentum is on completely different sides of the spectrum, and for that reason, this game will not be close. Derrick Henry will put up well over 100 yards for the Tide, and quarterback Jake Coker, who has been developing on a weekly basis, will throw for 250 yards. Alabama will play with the wind in its sails and pull out a huge win in the SEC Championship game. They will then move on to the College Football Playoff while Florida (being the SEC runner up) will partake in the Sugar Bowl.
Prediction: Alabama beats Florida 31-13
Stanford vs. USC - Pac-12
USC will be known as one of the larger surprises this season, and not in a good way. After a turbulent season which featured the firing of drunken head coach, Steve Sarkisian, the Trojans are lucky to have found a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game. On the other side is Stanford, who is coming off of a huge home victory against rival, Notre Dame. This week will be more of the same for both squads, turbulence for the Trojans, and easy production for the Cardinal. Expect the high stakes to bring out the best in each team. USC will lead Stanford all game, with its largest lead of 17 points going into half. The Cardinal will retaliate, closing the lead to 3 with under five minutes to go. They will than stop USC on defense and get the ball back. Kevin Hogan will lead Stanford down a long field and score a touchdown to take the lead with under a minute remaining. They will hold on to the game and advance to the Rose Bowl.
Prediction: Stanford beats USC 35-31
Michigan State vs. Iowa - Big 10
This game has sucked up seemingly all the hype of Saturday’s games, and rightfully so. Michigan State and Iowa are competing for what looks to be the final spot in the College Football Playoff, so the appeal of this championship is through the roof. The Spartans come in 11-1 and have huge wins this season against Oregon, Michigan, and Ohio State. Now, back with a healthy Conor Cook, they enter this game as the clear favorite. Iowa on the other hand has beaten only two top 20 opponents in Northwestern and Wisconsin, but they have beaten everyone handily. I should also state that Iowa has been an underdog twice this season, and each time they have taken care of business (as they are undefeated). In this epic battle between historic Big 10 heavyweights, look for a tight, defensive battle, led almost the entire time by the Hawkeyes. Iowa will come out inspired, as they always do. Expect Michigan State to surge back at Iowa, who will control the tempo for the entirety of the game, however the Spartans will come up just short on a down and distance play for the game as time expires. Iowa will continue to surprise the nation and advance to the College Football Playoff where they will face Clemson.
Prediction: Iowa beats Michigan State 27-21
North Carolina vs. Clemson - ACC
The Tar Heels are another inspiring story this season. Originally touted as a team that will struggle to make a bowl, North Carolina has continued to prove everyone wrong. This is due to their lethal offense led by sophomore running back Elijah Hood. Hood has rushed for 16 touchdowns and nearly 1300 yards on only 192 carries. As of late, Hood’s production has been unprecedented. In the last month he has averaged around 150 yards per game and 2 touchdowns per game. In order for the Tar Heels to have any sort of chance against Clemson, Hood needs at least 25-30 carries. Defending Elijah Hood and North Carolina is Clemson, another offensively focused team. Clemson has arguably the best quarterback in the nation in Deshaun Watson, who is responsible for 36 touchdowns (27 passing, 9 rushing) this season. The Tigers also have a top 25 defense, however it is one that is better in the secondary. Obviously, we know neither team will struggle to put points on the board, so the question comes down to whichever team can throw up more. The answer is Clemson. North Carolina will keep it close however. They will give the Tigers their toughest challenge of the year, however their upset bid will come up short. Clemson will take care of business and move on to the playoff.
Prediction: Clemson beats North Carolina 41-31