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College Football: Predictions for the Top 10 Games on Championship Weekend

Josh SachnoffContributor IIISeptember 13, 2016

College Football: Predictions for the Top 10 Games on Championship Weekend

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    After all of the excitement and drama that occurred last week, it’s championship weekend, where anything is possible. 

    On Friday night, championship weekend begins in Detroit, where Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois will be looking to win the MAC title and advance to their second BCS bowl game in two years.

    Saturday is where things could get interesting, especially in the Big 12. Oklahoma State hosts in-state rival Oklahoma in the Bedlam Series, where it hopes to win the conference title and earn a Fiesta Bowl bid. A loss for the Pokes, though, would cause chaos, as Texas and Baylor would face off for the Big 12 Championship and automatic BCS bowl berth in the afternoon. 

    The SEC Championship will be host to two unexpected guests in Auburn and Missouri. The winner of this matchup could find itself in the BCS championship game Sunday night if Ohio State doesn’t have a convincing win or happens to lose to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship. 

    Lastly, Stanford and Arizona State will battle it out in the desert for a Rose Bowl berth, and Florida State will have its chance to clinch a spot in the BCS championship with a win over a talented Duke team. 

    With one final chance for teams to secure a conference championship, here are the top 10 games to watch.

No. 17 Oklahoma at No. 6 Oklahoma State

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    Oklahoma State senior quarterback Clint Chelf against Baylor on Nov. 23.
    Oklahoma State senior quarterback Clint Chelf against Baylor on Nov. 23.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    No. 17 Oklahoma at No. 6 Oklahoma State, noon ET, ABC

     

    It’s always a good one when these two square off in the Bedlam Series. Last season, Oklahoma tied things up at 45 with four seconds remaining in regulation and eventually won 51-48 on a Brennan Clay 18-yard touchdown in the first overtime. 

    This year, it’s not just revenge that’s on Oklahoma State’s mind, but a Big 12 championship and automatic BCS bid to the Fiesta Bowl as well. 

    Bob Stoops' Sooners suffered tough losses to rival Texas and Baylor, meaning it will be a third straight season of failing to qualify for a BCS game and their longest drought since the BCS era began in 1998. 

    Quarterback Trevor Knight started Oklahoma's last game against Kansas State on Nov. 23, while Blake Bell was out with a concussion. Bell is currently probable for Saturday’s game.

    Clay racked up an astounding 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcat defense and will look to do so again against a stingy Cowboy defense giving up just 130.0 rushing yards per game.

    Bell will likely rely on wide receiver Jalen Saunders as well, even though the Sooners are 100th in the country in passing yards per game. 

    The Pokes have been on a roll since Sept. 28, winning their past seven games. Quarterback Clint Chelf had himself a day against Baylor on Nov. 23 by scoring four touchdowns, one of which was a rushing touchdown.

    Chelf and an Oklahoma State offense scoring 41.2 points per game have the opportunity to take advantage of a Sooners defense that's given up an average of 38.5 points in both of its losses this season. 

    Not only is Chelf dangerous in both the passing and running game, but wide receiver Tracy Moore could be problematic as well. Add in a Cowboys defense that held a prolific Baylor offense to just 17 points, and the Sooners could be in serious trouble.  

    Oklahoma State has stepped up against top-ranked teams when it had to this season, meaning we should expect Mike Gundy and company to win their second Big 12 conference title in three years. 

     

    Prediction: Oklahoma State 41, Oklahoma 24

SEC Championship: No. 5 Missouri vs. No. 3 Auburn (Atlanta)

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    Auburn junior running back Tre Mason against Alabama on Nov. 30.
    Auburn junior running back Tre Mason against Alabama on Nov. 30.John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    SEC Championship Game: No. 5 Missouri vs. No. 3 Auburn (Atlanta), 4 p.m. ET, CBS 

     

    Just one week ago, many thought they would be seeing Alabama and South Carolina face each other, but as you can see, that didn’t quite happen. Two teams that combined for a 2-14 conference record in 2012, both wins by Missouri, are now in Atlanta playing for an SEC championship and a potential berth in the BCS National Championship. 

    Gary Pinkel’s Missouri Tigers have continued to prove doubters wrong week in and week out this season.  Their only loss this season came at home to South Carolina on Oct. 26, when they blew a 17-point lead and lost on a missed field goal in double overtime. If Missouri were to defeat Auburn, it would be its first outright conference title since 1960, when it was a part of the Big Eight Conference. 

    Since returning against Ole Miss on Nov. 23, senior quarterback James Franklin has looked solid and will be a critical aspect in knocking off Auburn in what is one of Missouri’s biggest games in school history.

    Running back Henry Josey has scored 13 touchdowns and is only 49 yards away from hitting the 1,000- yard mark. While the Tigers have a Top 25 rushing attack, it could be up to wide receivers L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham to challenge an Auburn secondary that has struggled to defend the pass this season. 

    Missouri’s defense, which is led by defensive end Michael Sam, has been among the best at stopping the rush this season, but will it be good enough to shut down the fifth-best running game consisting of quarterback Nick Marshall and 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason

    With new head coach Gus Malzahn and a little bit of luck, Auburn is back in its second SEC Championship Game in four years. 

    Marshall has 1,627 passing yards, 922 rushing yards and 21 total touchdowns this season, while Mason has rushed for 18 touchdowns and physically manhandled opposing defenses thus far. 

    With an offense that relies heavily on the run, Auburn can make big plays through the air during critical parts in the game.

    The Tigers defense held Alabama to an impressive seven points in the second half last week and will need to be tough again against a Missouri offense racking up 489.5 total yards per game. 

    Auburn is riding high after a big upset win over then-No. 1 Alabama, 34-28, and can’t afford a letdown against a dangerous Missouri team that is demanding respect from its SEC opponents.

    It should be another close SEC title game, but Auburn seems to be that team of destiny this year and will make it through with a hard-fought victory. 

     

    Prediction: Auburn 35, Missouri 30

Pac-12 Championship: No. 7 Stanford at No. 11 Arizona State

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    Arizona State junior quarterback Taylor Kelly against Arizona on Nov. 30.
    Arizona State junior quarterback Taylor Kelly against Arizona on Nov. 30.Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Pac-12 Championship Game: No. 7 Stanford at No. 11 Arizona State, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

     

    It will be Round 2 between these Pac-12 foes this season, as Stanford got the best of Arizona State at home with a convincing 42-28 victory back on Sept. 21. 

    The Cardinal basically fell into their second straight conference title game because of Oregon's loss at Arizona on Nov. 23. They appeared to be out of the BCS picture originally with a 20-17 upset loss at USC just one week prior. 

    Stanford’s offense continues to be led by workhorse running back Tyler Gaffney, who has rushed for an impressive 1,485 yards and 17 touchdowns. While Gaffney continues to punish opposing defenses on the ground, quarterback Kevin Hogan manages each game and can make plays with his arm or legs. 

    Wide receivers Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste may be asked to make big plays down the stretch against a talented Arizona State defense led by All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton

    The Stanford defense, led by linebacker Shayne Skov, held the Sun Devils offense to an impressive 50 rushing yards earlier in the season, but should be in for a challenge against its passing attack, led by junior quarterback Taylor Kelly

    Arizona State finally met expectations this season by hitting 10 wins for the first time since 2007 under second year head coach Todd Graham. 

    Kelly (3,337 passing yards, 437 rushing yards, 35 total TDs) and 1,000-yard reception leader Jaelen Strong lead an offense averaging 43.3 points per game. Sophomore running back D.J. Foster will also look to make an impact in the backfield after rushing for 124 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona last week. 

    The Sun Devils getting home-field advantage for the Pac-12 Championship Game is important, as they have not lost at home yet this season. 

    If Arizona State starts putting points up on the scoreboard, it could be difficult for the Cardinal offense, which has struggled to score against quality opponents this season, to keep up. In Stanford's last seven of eight games, it has scored 27 points or less. 

    It’s hard to defeat the same team twice in one season, and the Sun Devils have improved since their beatdown in Palo Alto in late September. 

    Arizona State should be Rose Bowl-bound for the first time since the 1996-97 season. 

     

    Prediction: Arizona State 38, Stanford 28

ACC Championship: No. 20 Duke vs. No. 1 Florida State (Charlotte)

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    Florida State sophomore wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin against Florida on Nov. 30.
    Florida State sophomore wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin against Florida on Nov. 30.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    ACC Championship Game: No. 20 Duke vs. No. 1 Florida State (Charlotte), 8 p.m. ET, ABC

     

    With top Heisman candidate Jameis Winston good to go, the Seminoles are in great position to advance to their first BCS National Championship since 2000-01. That’s unless David Cutcliffe and the fighting Dukies have anything to say about that. 

    Duke heads to Charlotte on an eight-game winning streak, which eventually turned into its first ACC Coastal Division title in school history. The Blue Devils, though, come in as heavy underdogs, and history proves it, as they've lost to Florida State in all 18 meetings.

    The Blue Devils need a stellar performance from quarterback Anthony Boone, who passed for a combined 530 yards and five touchdowns in Duke’s past two games. Another impact player is wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who has racked up 1,131 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. 

    On the other hand, Florida State has been blowing out its opponents by an average of 42.7 points per game this season.

    Winston has passed for 3,490 yards and 35 touchdowns this season and has the weapons around him to win a national championship. Devonta Freeman heads the Seminole backfield, while wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who had 212 receiving yards and three touchdowns against Florida last week, leads the receiving corps. 

    The Seminoles defense is what could be the difference-maker in this matchup. Duke hasn’t faced a defense of this caliber yet this season and could have problems getting into the end zone. Senior safety Lamarcus Joyner leads a defense that’s first in the country in points against (11.0 points per game) and fourth in the country in total yards per game (271.0).

    Cutcliffe has had a Cinderella run with his Blue Devils, but it ends here, as Florida State punches its ticket to Pasadena on Jan. 6. 

     

    Prediction: Florida State 49, Duke 24

Big Ten Championship: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Michigan State (Indianapolis)

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    Ohio State senior running back Carlos Hyde against Michigan on Nov. 30.
    Ohio State senior running back Carlos Hyde against Michigan on Nov. 30.Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Big Ten Championship Game: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Michigan State (Indianapolis), 8:17 p.m. ET, Fox

     

    Ohio State finally fell into the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings after Alabama was upset by Auburn, but it needs a convincing win over No. 10 Sparty to keep a one-loss SEC champion from potentially overtaking that No. 2 spot. 

    Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes will be going for their 25th straight win. After going undefeated last season and not being able to play for a BCS championship due to a one-year bowl ban, this is a very meaningful game for the program. 

    It’s no secret that the Ohio State offense is led by star quarterback Braxton Miller and bruising running back Carlos Hyde. Both manhandled the Michigan defense in last week’s thrilling 42-41 victory. Miller has 1,759 passing yards, 891 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns, while Hyde has rushed for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns. 

    The Buckeye offense, though, will have the challenge of facing a stout Michigan State defense. The No. 1 defense in the country, led by senior linebacker Max Bullough, has a chance to shut down the Ohio State rushing attack if it can contain Miller and Hyde.

    It’s easier said than done, as the Spartans rush defense struggled to defend Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, who is similar to the talent level of Hyde. 

    With a top-ranked defense, the Spartans offense hasn’t needed to worry as much about scoring points this season, but quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford can put up points when needed.

    Michigan State should also be able to move the ball down the field on the ground and specifically through the air against an Ohio State defense that struggled at Michigan last week and is currently 111th in the country in pass defense, per team rankings

    This matchup is going to rely heavily on who wins the battle up front. Also, expect big impacts from each team’s starting running backs. 

    The Buckeyes will escape a tough game against the Spartans, but will it be enough to make the BCS National Championship?

     

    Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan State 27

The Other Five

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    Northern Illinois senior quarterback Jordan Lynch against Western Michigan on Nov. 26.
    Northern Illinois senior quarterback Jordan Lynch against Western Michigan on Nov. 26.Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    Friday, MAC Championship: Bowling Green vs. No. 14 Northern Illinois (Detroit), 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2

    Northern Illinois has the opportunity to accomplish something very rare Friday night.

    The Huskies could win a third consecutive MAC championship, earn another at-large BCS bowl bid and have a player put himself in position to win the Heisman Trophy. That player is senior dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch

    Lynch has passed for 2,457 yards and 22 touchdowns this season, as well as rushed for an astounding 1,755 yards and 20 touchdowns. Against Western Michigan on Nov. 26, he broke his single-game FBS record by rushing for 321 yards as a quarterback.

    With so much emphasis placed on Lynch, running back Cameron Stingily is more than capable of pounding the ball out on the ground, as he’s rushed for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns.

    But the Huskies cannot overlook a Bowling Green team that's lost two of its three games by a combined four points. The Falcons blew opponents out in November and have held offenses to just 13.8 points per game this season (fifth in the country)

    The past three MAC Championship Games Northern Illinois has played in have been decided by seven points or less. Don’t be surprised if the outcome is closer than anticipated. 

    Prediction: Northern Illinois 35, Bowling Green 27

     

    No. 16 UCF at SMU, noon ET, ESPN

    With Louisville knocking off Cincinnati 31-24 in overtime Thursday night, UCF earns the automatic BCS berth for the AAC.

    There still is something on the line for the Knights in this game, though, as UCF would be going for its second outright conference championship in four years. In 2010, they defeated SMU 17-7 in the Conference USA Championship Game. 

    Starting quarterback Blake Bortles (3,038 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions) wasn’t as solid against South Florida last week, as he threw two interceptions, but expect him to bounce back this week against one of the worst pass defenses in the country. The Mustangs are giving up 274.5 passing yards per game and surrendering 24.8 points per game. 

    SMU could give the Knights defense a few problems with its pass offense if quarterback Garrett Gilbert is able to go. 

    UCF should win handily and take the AAC outright in its first season as a member of the conference. 

    Prediction: UCF 38, SMU 24

     

    Conference USA Championship: Marshall @ Rice, noon ET, ESPN2

    After failing to become bowl eligible in 2012, Marshall bounced back with its first nine-win season since 2002. The three losses the Thundering Herd suffered this season were by a combined 13 points. One of the losses came to Virginia Tech in triple overtime. 

    The Marshall offense this season has been difficult for opponents to defend. Junior quarterback Rakeem Cato has passed for an impressive 3,314 yards and 34 touchdowns this season, while running back Essray Taliaferro has rushed for over 1,000 yards and Tommy Shuler has 1,000 receiving yards. 

    The Thundering Herd offense is ranked in the Top 25 in both passing and rushing yards this season and is averaging 44.6 points per game. 

    Marshall will have its hands full against a Rice team that’s won nine games for the first time since 2008 and has a rushing attack averaging 239.5 rushing yards per game.

    The Owls offense has been led by senior quarterback Taylor McHargue and running back Charles Ross. McHargue has 2,065 passing yards and 16 touchdowns, while Ross has 1,143 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns.

    Prediction: Marshall 34, Rice 31

     

    No. 25 Texas @ No. 9 Baylor, 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox

    This game could have heavy conference implications if Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma earlier in the day. As in, a Big 12 conference championship game that would send the winner to the Fiesta Bowl.

    Even if the Cowboys happen to win, this will be a chance for either team to earn a share of the Big 12 title. 

    Somehow Mack Brown's Longhorns are still in the hunt after a rough nonconference outing at the beginning of the season and multiple injuries.

    Quarterback Case McCoy and the Texas defense need to be at the top of their game. Not only will the Longhorns offense need to score more than its average of 33.1 points per game, but the defense has to try to stop the best offense in the country. 

    Baylor’s offense, led by quarterback Bryce Petty, will challenge the Horns through the air and on the ground with running back Lache Seastrunk and wide receiver Antwan Goodley.

    The Bears barely held on to win at TCU last week, but with a potential automatic or at-large BCS bid on the line, as well as a final game at Floyd Casey, Art Briles’ squad should come away with a big win. 

    Prediction: Baylor 42, Texas 24

     

    Mountain West Championship: Utah State at No. 23 Fresno State, 10 p.m. ET, CBS

    Fresno State’s BCS hopes were shattered last Friday when it was upset at San Jose State 62-52. Senior quarterback Derek Carr, who leads the FBS in passing yards (4,462) and touchdowns passes (45), has unfinished business, as he tries to earn Fresno State its first outright conference title since 1991, when it played in the Big West. 

    The Bulldogs boast the No. 1 ranked passing attack with 410.3 yards per game, while the Utah State defense has the seventh-best scoring defense in the country (16.8 points per game). 

    The Aggies will be going for their second straight conference title; of course, last year they won the WAC title. 

    Even with Fresno State having home-field advantage, it will be a close, yet high-scoring affair between these two teams. 

    Prediction: Fresno State 49, Utah State 38 

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