College Football Conference Championship Weekend: Picks & Predictions
Conference Championship Weekend is here, and the college football picks and predictions are at hand for each of the 10 matchups. Find the best value from college football’s last weekend, featuring multiple Friday and Saturday games to choose from.
Week 14 College Football Picks and Predictions
C-USA Championship: North Texas vs. UTSA
The UTSA Roadrunners are back in the Conference USA Championship and hosting the North Texas Mean Green. North Texas has had a remarkable run, led by 29-year-old Austin Aune at quarterback. Yet, it’s their rushing attack that has paced their wins this season.
They’re among the top rushing offenses in the country, averaging nearly 5.5 yards per attempt. That figure ranks near the top of the Group of Five rankings and second only to UAB in the C-USA.
However, the UTSA run defense has limited opponent rushing attacks to fewer than 155 yards per game his year, among the best in the Group of Five in their own right.
UTSA is favored by a touchdown+, and it makes sense on the surface. The points, however, may come at a higher premium than we think here.
Prediction: UTSA 31, North Texas 21
Pac-12 Championship: Utah vs. USC
The Utah Utes have already beaten the USC Trojans this year. That’s old news, right? Well, think again.
The way Utah beat USC wasn’t flukey, but it wasn’t sustainable in the long run. The way this game aligns, these are certainly two of the three best teams in the conference. Nonetheless, it’s hard to see this Utah team being the same unit that defeated USC a few weeks back.
Utah is banged up, and RB Tavion Thomas played his last game for Utah two weeks ago. Combine that with the fact that Caleb Williams is playing to his two biggest strengths right now? You may have some trouble slowing down the momentum.
The College Football Playoff is on the line for the Trojans. If they’re up for the moment, they win and they’re in. They’ll be up for that moment.
Prediction: USC 35, Utah 30
Big 12 Championship: Kansas State vs. TCU
Does TCU have more magic up their sleeves? Can the Horned Frogs continue to hypnotize the world? More importantly, can they score enough points on the Kansas State defense to cover?
Kansas State has allowed just 28 touchdowns this year, the fewest allowed in the Big 12. Sure, points have been scored, but no Big 12 defense has been better at limiting those points than the Wildcats.
Flip the script, though, because no offense has scored more than the TCU offense. Max Duggan has grown his confidence in every game, and the Horned Frogs are among the top three teams in the conference in every passing metric.
TCU’s dream season continues with a commanding victory as Duggan rides off to New York following this one.
Prediction: TCU 30, Kansas State 23
MAC Championship: Toledo vs. Ohio
A battle of two high-octane offenses headlines the Group of Five slate, as the MAC Championship doesn’t lack any luster. Ohio will be playing with backup quarterback CJ Harris, however, as Kurtis Rourke has been sidelined for the season.
Harris completed fewer than 50% of his passes against Bowling Green, but he led the Ohio rushing attack with three scores on the ground. Still, this is a completely changed landscape for the MAC Championship Game without Rourke.
Toledo QB Dequan Finn should have a field day against Ohio’s last-place defense that allows over 440 yards per game. The Bobcats give up over 6.3 yards per play and have been inconsistent stopping opponents from gashing them this year.
Prediction: Toledo 28, Ohio 24
SEC Championship: LSU vs. Georgia
The big one lacks some luster this year. LSU is fresh off a loss to Texas A&M; Georgia is likely in the College Football Playoff with a win or a loss. So, quite literally, this game is just for bragging rights (and some bonuses in each coach’s pocket).
Georgia is by far the more complete team and possesses the largest spread to cover in this outing. Can they score enough on LSU’s defense to do so?
Given the fact that LSU gives up over four yards per rush this year and over 5.3 yards per play, the Georgia offense should carve this Tigers defense up. While on defense, the Bulldogs have the power to limit LSU’s top target (Kayshon Boutte) with Kelee Ringo.
Prediction: Georgia 30, LSU 13
Sun Belt Championship: Coastal Carolina vs. Troy
Troy’s defense deserves more credit than it’s being given nationally. The Trojans hold the all-time tackles leader in Carlton Martial, and their edge rushers present challenges for even the best offensive line.
Coastal Carolina looked lost on offense with Jarrett Guest running point against JMU last week. They’ll have to figure things out, but the Troy defense is nearly as good as the Dukes’ unit that limited Coastal to just over 200 yards as a team.
Prediction: Troy 27, Coastal Carolina 17
AAC Championship: UCF vs. Tulane
Though the national landscape has talked about Tulane’s defensive prowess against the pass this year, few have talked about just how good UCF’s defense has been in 2022. The Green Wave rank first in the conference by allowing just 28 offensive touchdowns, while the Knights rank second in the AAC by allowing just 30.
And surprisingly, it’s UCF’s defense that has allowed the fewest touchdowns through the air in the American. UCF is anchored by a stout pass defense that few knew could play this well this season.
Divaad Wilson is playing like the former Georgia Bulldog should, and Justin Hodges has been a revelation this fall. Those two should be able to give the Knights a big enough boost, while a healthy John Rhys Plumlee can provide problems for Tulane’s defense once again.
Plumlee ran for over 150 yards and two scores the last time these two met — UCF knocked Tulane from the Top 25 at the time. If Plumlee’s hamstring isn’t bothering him, the Knights win.
Prediction: UCF 34, Tulane 31
Mountain West Championship: Fresno State vs. Boise State
JL Skinner vs. Jake Haener — the battle everyone wants to see. Haener has returned to action for Fresno State and looked every bit like the elite quarterback he was in 2021. The Bulldogs have scored at least 30 points in every game since Haener returned and over 40 points in two of those four contests.
In just seven full games he’s started, he’s thrown for 16 touchdowns and limited himself to just three interceptions (only two since he’s returned). Haener is playing lights out and some of the best football we’ve seen from him.
Boise State’s pass defense, however, leads the Mountain West by allowing just 6.51 yards per pass attempt and ranks second by allowing just 51.9% of passes to be completed.
Haener will have the stiffest test of his season when he goes against this talented and big secondary. If he continues his current form, however, Haener will test Boise State’s top defensive ceiling.
Prediction: Fresno State 28, Boise State 27
Big Ten Championship: Purdue vs. Michigan
Michigan wins and they’re in the College Football Playoff. If they lose, there’s no chance for them, unfortunately. Acting as a de facto Playoff Quarterfinal, this Michigan team can lean upon what made them so good against Ohio State last week — their rushing attack.
Michigan can also rely on their top-ranked defense that gives up a measly 262.2 yards per game, including just seven passing touchdowns. Against Purdue’s wide-open concepts, expect the Michigan pass rushers to pin their ears back and come after Aidan O’Connell.
Creating unfavorable second- and third-down situations will take away Devin Mockobee and Payne Durham early, forcing the Boilermakers to go deep on their talented secondary. All the while, Michigan can run the ball and rely on the best offensive player in college football to dominate the middle of the field.
That player is Olusegun Oluwatimi, the Wolverines center, who should be in consideration for the Heisman.
Prediction: Michigan 35, Purdue 13
ACC Championship: Clemson vs. North Carolina
Talk about a couple of teams that have a lot of questions surrounding their program this year and their place in the ACC Championship Game. Drake Maye has come back to Earth, and DJ Uiagalelei has reverted to last year’s form as the season has gone on.
So, what do we expect when we see Clemson take on North Carolina as both are coming off losses to their in-state rivals? You can expect to see the talent gap shine for Clemson if DJU plays up to snuff.
The Tigers are the better team, but that’s mainly because their defense is full of next-level stars. Can the pressure-getters get enough pressure on Maye to force him off his spot while the defensive backs hold on in coverage? They’ll have to put their performance against South Carolina behind them if they want to do so.
Dabo Swinney is one of the best coaches out there, and you better believe he’ll have them ready to forget.
Prediction: Clemson 38, North Carolina 28