Saturday’s college football slate is loaded with conference championship games that will determine the participants in everything from the national title game to the Las Vegas Bowl.
Let’s dig into some predictions for the final full Saturday of the BCS era.
The Conference USA title game pits Marshall up against Rice in a showdown between two 9-3 squads that went 7-1 in conference play.
The Thundering Herd have won five in a row, and each of their three losses came in heartbreaking fashion. Marshall fell in triple overtime to Virginia Tech, by three to Ohio and two to Middle Tennessee. It features a top-10 scoring offense that is notably balanced between the pass and run.
The Owls are not nearly as balanced and rely primarily on the run. They will keep the game close but will ultimately fail to make up an early deficit with a middling passing attack.
Marshall 45, Rice 28
Fresno State had higher aspirations than a Mountain West title, but after losing to San Jose State, it will have to settle for something outside of a BCS game.
The Bulldogs will put up plenty of points against Utah State, but it is their defense that raises red flags after surrendering 62 points to San Jose State. Fortunately for Fresno State fans, the Bulldogs have beaten the Aggies five straight times and will do so again Saturday.
Utah State just doesn’t have the firepower to keep up with the Bulldogs without the injured Chuckie Keaton.
Fresno State 52, Utah State 21
Arizona State already lost at home to Stanford once this season, but it has a chance at redemption in the same location Saturday. The winner heads to Pasadena for the 100th Rose Bowl.
In the first matchup, the Cardinal jumped out to a commanding 39-7 lead through three quarters. Arizona State put up a valiant fourth-quarter effort but ultimately fell 42-28. It was the Sun Devils' only loss of the season in conference play.
Arizona State’s offense has scored at least 30 points in eight of the nine games since that contest, including five 50-plus point efforts. The Sun Devils clearly figured something out in that fourth quarter against Stanford’s vaunted defense and will continue with that momentum by jumping out to an early lead.
The Cardinal rely on their running attack and will have difficulty overcoming an early deficit.
Arizona State 35, Stanford 24
This is it for Florida State—beat Duke and a spot in the national championship is all but secured.
And beat Duke it will.
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The Blue Devils are a formidable squad on offense, but they allowed 38 points to Georgia Tech, 58 points to Pittsburgh, 31 points to Troy and 30 points to Miami. None of those offenses had anyone close to the caliber of Heisman front-runner Jameis Winston.
The Seminoles dominant offense will score early and often, and their top-notch defense (that often gets overlooked) will slow down Duke’s attack. Look for this one to be over by halftime and the Seminoles fans to begin booking their trip to Pasadena.
Florida State 51, Duke 24
The SEC’s streak of seven consecutive national championships will come to an end this season if Florida State and Ohio State both win, but that doesn’t mean the SEC title game is any less intriguing.
Auburn, which seems to be living on borrowed time following its dramatic last-second wins over Georgia and Alabama, will face off with relative newcomer Missouri. The key to the game will be Missouri’s formidable defense (that did a solid job containing Johnny Manziel its last time out) against Auburn’s dominant rushing attack.
Auburn undoubtedly spent much of its week reveling in the Alabama win and arguing its case against No. 2 Ohio State. It’s only human nature to do so.
Missouri will take Auburn by surprise and earn a spot in the Sugar Bowl.
Missouri 27, Auburn 24
There will be a lot of eyeballs on Indianapolis Saturday night when the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes fight for a spot in the national championship game against the underrated Michigan State Spartans.
This is a classic strength versus strength matchup between Ohio State’s explosive offense and the dominant defense of the Spartans. Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and the Buckeyes have rolled against almost every defense they have faced, but this will be their biggest challenge.
While all the attention is on the Buckeyes offense and Spartans defense, the other side of the matchup may determine the outcome. Ohio State struggled to stop Michigan’s spread attack and will need to play much better against the Spartans. It is hard to envision the Spartans defense being featured in a shootout, so the Buckeyes need to rack up some defensive stops.
The good news for Ohio State is this game is indoors on turf, so the weather won’t be a factor. Speed kills indoors, and the Buckeyes’ speed advantage will eventually wear Michigan State out.
Ohio State 31, Michigan State 21
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