Championship Saturday Preview... and history made
It's Championship Saturday, an opportunity for teams to claim a conference title in this most unusual of college football seasons, and stake a claim to extend their postseason in Bowl games or a place in the College Football Playoff. This week, Saturdays Feeds My Soul takes a look at the key teams squaring off on Championship Saturday and their form coming in.
To start, a special mention to Sarah Fuller who made college football history last weekend as she became the first woman to score points in a Power 5 conference game, kicking two extra points for Vanderbilt in a 42-17 loss to Tennessee.
Previewing the Power 5 Championship Games
Pac-12 – No.13 USC 24–31 Oregon - Los Angeles, CA.
The Pac-12 Championship played out in the early hours this morning and almost appropriately in this most unpredictable of seasons, was won by an underdog who made the game as Washington had to pull out.
Up against unbeaten USC, Oregon unexpectedly mixed it up at quarterback, putting in Boston College senior graduate transfer Anthony Brown to share plays with Tyler Shough, both signal callers throwing two touchdown passes each. Kayvon Thibodeaux led a strong Ducks performance which stifled USC’s offense, for whom Kedon Slovis threw three interceptions with his two touchdown passes.
Jamal Hill sealed the upset with this spectacular interception...
Oregon’s surprise win lifts the pressure on coach Mario Cristobal, and the Ducks move further into the postseason with a likely appearance in the Fiesta Bowl on 2nd January.
SEC – No.1 Alabama vs. No.7 Florida - Atlanta, GA.
LSU 37-34 No.6 Florida
Florida’s gradual renaissance under Dan Mullen has continued this season but fell apart at the worst possible time ahead of their SEC Championship showdown against Alabama. The Gators, who emerged from Georgia’s shadow in the SEC East, suffered an upset loss vs. LSU which has left their playoff hopes in tatters.
Kyle Trask, so impressive all season, was uncharacteristically rattled against an LSU defense missing three cornerbacks. Trask was sacked four times and threw two interceptions, including this, one of the craziest interceptions I've seen (courtesy of ESPN College Football):
LSU may have found their successor to Joe Burrow. Freshman quarterback Max Johnson, son of former NFL and Super Bowl winning QB Brad, threw for three touchdowns and 239 yards. Tied at 34-34, LSU’s 57-yard winning field goal will give Florida some motivation for their conference decider with the Crimson Tide.
No.1 Alabama 52-3 Arkansas
The nation’s top ranked team are marching imperiously into the postseason. Alabama look unstoppable. Their high powered offense, balanced but renowned for the strength of its aerial attack, showed off its running game. Brian Robinson ran for three of Alabama’s six rushing touchdowns and remarkably, Mac Jones didn’t throw for a touchdown.
Devonta Smith, having had a quiet receiving game by his high standards, ran a Razorbacks kickoff back 83 yards for a touchdown and Alabama’s defense registered seven sacks and four turnovers. They will be hard to beat in Atlanta.
I can't see anything other than a dominant Alabama win here. Florida will be fired up by their first SEC Championship game in a while and keen to bounce back from their surprise loss to LSU. Alabama's are unbeaten at 10-0 and their closest margin of victory was fifteen points over a similarly high-powered offensive team in Ole Miss. Mac Jones will lead the Tide to the SEC title on the way to a national championship.
ACC – No.2 Notre Dame vs. No.3 Clemson - Charlotte, NC.
No.2 vs No.3 in the nation, the two best quarterbacks in the ACC, and likely the only year famously independent Notre Dame will be in a conference championship game. This is undoubtedly the game of the weekend.
Their mid-November showdown, ending in a 47-40 double-overtime win for Notre Dame, hinted at what we might expect in Charlotte today. The Fighting Irish stamped their intention as serious contenders for the national championship and their players rose to the challenge. Ian Book in particular showed his ability to keep a cool head under pressure. While that game unveiled DJ Uigalelei as Clemson's future at quarterback, their present will return for this showdown. Trevor Lawrence is back and could be the difference here.
Clemson will be keen to exact revenge and I think they will edge out Notre Dame, potentially in another overtime thriller.
Big 12 – No.6 Iowa State vs. No.10 Oklahoma – Arlington, TX
An intriguing end to the season for the Big 12 sees a replay of the early October upset for win for Iowa State over Oklahoma, their first away loss to Iowa State in 60 years.
After a tough start to the season, Oklahoma are finding their feet, and their form. Lincoln Riley is steering his young offensive stars towards a bright future. Quarterback Spencer Rattler is building a productive partnership with fellow freshman Marvin Mims that bodes well for the Sooners' future. Can they rise to the occasion and exact revenge on the Cyclones? A neutral venue could make the difference.
Breece Hall and Brock Purdy have had standout seasons for Iowa State and both look destined for the NFL Draft. Hall, with 17 touchdowns and a nation-leading 1,357 rushing yards this year, will need to be stopped if Oklahoma are going to win what looked like an unlikely win after losing two games early in the season.
Matt Campbell has turned the Cyclones from a 3-9 program to a team on the verge of a historic Big 12 title, and is on the watchlist for a number of NFL GMs looking to hire a new head coach. He has also been linked with the top job at Auburn. After their victory over Oklahoma this season, he said:
“We’ve got 16 seniors who came here on a dream that we someday could turn Iowa State football around. They came here at 3-9 and believed in us and believed in our vision.”
Their vision might be realised today. Iowa State could secure a trip to the Cotton Bowl and win their first Big 12 title since 1912. I think they will edge out Oklahoma in overtime.
Big Ten – No.4 Ohio State vs. No.14 Northwestern – Indianapolis, IN.
Like the Pac-12, it seems like the Big Ten's season has barely started before they head into their title game. Ohio State (5-0) play a Northwestern (6-1) with a strong defense and running game. They ran for 411 yards in a 28-10 win over Illinois last week to warm up for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State have had three games cancelled due to COVID-19 and a slightly intermittent season giving them little opportunity to gain momentum as a result. Justin Fields, impressive again this year as he has been in his spell in Columbus, was out of sorts in their 42-35 win over a good Indiana team, which could give Northwestern some hope.
Fields will be keen to steer Ohio State to the College Football Playoff before heading to the NFL. While I see Northwestern trying to make it a gritty affair, I think Ohio State wins by two touchdowns.
Group of Five Conference Title Games:
Conference-USA - UAB 22-13 Marshall
MAC - Ball State 38-28 Buffalo
AAC - No.23 Tulsa at No.9 Cincinnati
Mountain State - Boise State vs. No24 San Diego State