College Football: B/R Experts Answer Biggest Questions for Week 14
All season long, college football teams are dreaming of a conference title. No matter whether it's the expectation or a rarity for the program, the visions of lifting that trophy are persistent.
And now, the moment has arrived. The winners in these 10 games will be remembered in school history for many years.
There is more at stake for a quartet of schools, though.
Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC hold the coveted situation: Win, and you're headed to the College Football Playoff. Losing this weekend might not ruin the pursuit of a national title, but a conference championship win would undoubtedly lock up their respective CFP slots.
Bleacher Report's expert panel—Max Escarpio, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—covered all 10 conference titles.
Will USC Get Revenge on Utah for Pac-12 Title?
Utah is responsible for USC’s only loss of the season, beating the Trojans in October with a heartbreaking-for-USC 43-42 ending. USC will definitely have its eyes set on revenge in the Pac-12 title game, but that won’t come easy.
While USC is the No. 4 team in the country, Utah is not far behind at No. 11. The Utes have beaten top opponents this season and will likely give the Trojans another hard-fought game. Another high-scoring affair should be expected as both teams have struggled on the defensive end, while the offenses have an incredible ability to put the ball in the end zone.
Utah may give USC into the fourth quarter, but USC will be lined up to get their revenge. A team with one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country and arguably the best college football player in Caleb Williams won’t drop the ball in such an important game.
Say what you will about Lincoln Riley, but the man does not lose conference championships. He went 4-for-4 in the Big 12 title game while at Oklahoma. That includes two instances in which the Sooners avenged a regular-season loss—vs. Texas in 2018 and Iowa State in 2020.
So, yes, I believe USC has its revenge and secures its spot in the College Football Playoff.
A big reason I like the Trojans to get the dub is that Utah QB Cam Rising hasn't been the same since hurting his left knee in late October. In the three games leading up to the injury (including the USC game), Rising rushed 31 times for 192 yards and six touchdowns. In the four games since then, he has just 13 carries for 83 yards and no scores.
Sure, the Utes scored at will against Arizona, Stanford and Colorado despite lacking that extra dimension in their offense, but they were pretty well shut down in the 20-17 loss to Oregon, scoring just one offensive touchdown. It's probably going to take at least five touchdowns for them to win the rematch of a game that ended 43-42, and I don't see that happening. USC prevails in a 38-28 type of affair.
Does TCU Cap A Perfect Season with Big 12 Win?
The Horned Frogs should punch their ticket to the CFP once they win the Big 12 title. They’ll be facing a talented team in No. 10 Kansas State, but TCU hasn’t shown enough flaws to make me believe it’ll suffer a first loss in the biggest game of the season.
TCU has played quite a few close games, so it’s not an entire domination of the conference or college football landscape. Still, coaching and offensive consistency has led them to the brink of greatness. The Horned Frogs matched up against the Wildcats earlier this season, snagging a 38-28 victory and can do it again.
In their previous duel, KSU got shut out in the second half after leading 28-17 at halftime. Although the Wildcats are a skilled team, they're not the most reliable team. TCU should hoist the Big 12 trophy and await its ranking from the selection committee after their win.
Nope, I’m going with the upset here. This is more about me being a Chris Klieman believer than a TCU doubter, especially considering just how much improved the Horned Frogs defense has been in the second part of the season.
Who’s going to make Max Duggan look normal? This Wildcats defense is pretty stout, and they actually held a 28-10 lead over TCU earlier this season before one of Sonny Dykes’ team’s patented rallies.
This game is going to be about K-State connecting on big plays and getting a huge performance from Deuce Vaughn, who is a big-time, big-game player. On the biggest stage, he’s going to prove he’s the least talked-about star in the nation. I believe it'll be close enough to keep the Frogs in the Top Four, but K-State wins 37-34.
Will UCF or Tulane Win Clash to Decide NY6 Bid?
Back a few weeks ago, I predicted UCF to travel to Tulane and beat Willie Fritz’s team. But then, though, the Green Wave used the loss as a catalyst to continue what has been a special run through the season.
Fritz flirted with the Georgia Tech job earlier this week, but with him appearing to be locked in with Tulane, that’s going to provide a jolt of energy, and there’s no way Tyjae Spears, Michael Pratt and Co. will allow the Knights to step onto their turf for the second time in a season and win.
Spears is the best Group of Five player in the nation, and he’s going to show out with a big game. I like for Tulane to avenge the loss with a 38-27 win.
The unexpected part of UCF's earlier win is how quickly the offense jumped on a solid defense. Tulane ceded a scoring drive on four of UCF's first five possessions.
That can't happen again, right? Right?!
UCF quarterback John Ryhs Plumlee—who threw for 132 yards, rushed for 176 and accounted for three scores in that game—certainly is dynamic enough. The backfield around him is deep, and Tulane's run defense has faded against the toughest competition this year.
The evidence is there. But call it stubbornness, ignorance, whatever; I do not believe a balanced Tulane squad that just navigated a trip to Cincinnati loses at home to UCF twice in the same season.
Who Else Wins Group of 5 Championships?
I'll tackle these in descending order of confidence, starting with UTSA beating North Texas in Conference USA. The regular-season showdown was marvelous with five lead changes in the fourth quarter, but it was also a bizarre game in that UTSA had 19 more first downs. UTSA is clearly the better team and will extend its winning streak to 10.
Troy will also extend its winning streak to 10 in the Sun Belt championship against Coastal Carolina. There has been some scuttlebutt that CCU QB Grayson McCall might be able to play for the first time since injuring his foot in early November. Still, I like Troy to win comfortably at home, as the defense has been drastically better all season.
In the MAC, give me Toledo in a nail-biter. Toledo has played five consecutive games decided by one possession, losing three of them. Meanwhile, Ohio has reeled off seven straight wins and has not been held below 24 points since facing Iowa State in Week 3. But Ohio recently lost QB Kurtis Rourke to a season-ending knee injury, and I think the Rockets find a way to keep Ohio from winning what would be its first MAC title since 1968.
And in the MWC, I like Fresno State in a slight upset at Boise State. Fresno lost in Boise by 20 during the regular season, but star QB Jake Haener was out with a knee injury. That offense has been much more potent since his return in late October, and they'll eke out a road win.
Smart man, that Kerry Miller.
UTSA outplayed North Texas considerably, but a string of stalled drives in UNT's territory bogged down UTSA. Clean up early execution, and UTSA wins a pretty comfortable game.
Troy's defense is the difference for me, too. Or, perhaps more accurately, a lack of trust in Coastal's unit. Only 12 defenses have surrendered more yards per snap than CCU's 6.3, and McCall—given he wasn't healthy last week—won't be at full strength even if he plays.
It's practically a copy/paste situation for Ohio, which lost Rourke and, like Coastal Carolina, has ceded 6.3 yards per snap. Toledo, meanwhile, ranks 14th nationally in the category.
Lastly, the MWC contest will be decided on third down. Boise State's defense has been statistically regressing overall for about a month, but its third-down excellence has buoyed the unit. I'll trust Haener to win on money downs, though it's a direct contrast to Boise's key strength.
LSU vs. Georgia: Who You Got?
Georgia continues to be the toughest team in the country. They’re ranked No. 1 with an undefeated 12-0 record. The Bulldogs are the favorite in this matchup and would likely be favored against anyone in the nation.
LSU’s season has gone through a rollercoaster of ups and downs, losing in both the first and final week of the season. Despite their downfalls against Florida State and Texas A&M, respectively, the Tigers sandwiched a 9-1 mark between those games thanks to quarterback Jayden Daniels.
The Bulldogs may be in for a competition, but that won’t last for the full sixty minutes. Georgia should come out of the SEC Championship Game with another win, heading into the College Football Playoff unwounded.
Man, this game sure looked a lot more impactful a couple of weeks ago. I'm going with the overwhelming pick, Georgia, after LSU's embarrassing 38-23 loss to Texas A&M last week. Texas A&M entered at 4-7 and had just barely beaten a bad UMass team the week prior.
LSU gave up 38 points, which is the most A&M's offense put up all season. That's bad news for the Tigers this week, as Georgia enters this one putting up 38.3 points per game. The Dawgs also lead the nation in red-zone conversions, boasting a 97.0 scoring clip this season.
LSU's defense is tied for 23rd in opponent red-zone scoring rate, but I don't think that'll slow UGA. This Georgia team with Stetson Bennett, Brock Bowers and Kenny McIntosh will be looking for redemption from last year's stumble in the SECCG a season ago against Bama.
The Dawgs should have a big game, and it should be enough for Georgia to remain No. 1 on Selection Day.
North Carolina or Clemson in Quiet ACC Title?
I’ll take Clemson, although I can’t say I am beaming with confidence in this pick.
After watching the Tigers’ secondary get torched at times this year, including their loss to South Carolina that knocked them from the playoff, there is a concern about how this group will fare against UNC QB Drake Maye.
For me, however, it’s pretty simple. Clemson has better players at so many positions, and I believe that will translate into a win against a team that has really struggled down the stretch.
Yes, Maye is fabulous. He’s been great throughout much of the year, and he could singlehandedly take this game over. But I simply do not trust this UNC defense, which is currently ranked 103rd nationally in points allowed per game. (Not ideal.)
Clemson will win, and it will do so quietly. And I don’t expect it to be all that close.
Both North Carolina and Clemson enter this one coming off of rivalry week losses, as Clemson fell to South Carolina and UNC lost at home to NC State. As a result, this game doesn't really mean a lot, since it lacks Playoff implications entirely.
Still, I think this is a very important game for Clemson. For the second straight season, the Tigers will be missing out on a CFP bid, and Dabo Swinney will be faced with a lot more questions this offseason.
North Carolina, meanwhile, doesn't have a lot to prove in this game. Yes, UNC is out of the playoff hunt, but the Tar Heels are already having their best-ever season under Mack Brown. It's the best season since Larry Fedora led UNC to an 11-3 year in 2015. The UNC offense, despite falling flat last week against the Wolfpack, has been lighting up the scoreboard under Maye.
I don't think Clemson's offense and quarterback DJ Uiagalelei— who has averaged just 6.9 yards per attempt in 2022 and thrown five interceptions in the last five games—has enough firepower to keep pace with this Tar Heels offense. I think UNC can win by a couple scores, and Swinney's seat will start to get warmer.
Will Michigan Have Any Trouble with Purdue?
This is an interesting one, and I suppose it depends on your definition of "trouble."
The ingredients are all in place for a letdown to take shape. Michigan is coming off a dazzling win over rival Ohio State. The Wolverines are likely already in the CFP; they don’t need this win to validate a spot in the Top Four.
Running back Blake Corum, still battling a knee injury, is also unlikely to play. Why would he? If you’re Jim Harbaugh, now is the time to heal him before the Playoff.
Despite all that, Michigan is significantly better (obviously). With that accounted for, Purdue has won seven of its last nine games. Granted, most of those wins came against teams that haven’t exactly been sensational this year.
Michigan will win this football game, although I could see it being a bit of a slog. Given the Wolverines' presumed playoff status, I expect Michigan to grind out a win, run the football and play it safe.
It won’t be a nail biter. It won’t be a blowout. This will be something in the middle.
The Wolverines have been doubted a large portion of the season because their out-of-conference schedule was so awful. Then, they went out last weekend and whipped Ohio State on its home turf.
But Purdue isn’t a great matchup, because the Boilermakers are basically the only team from the West Division that can score points, and Jeff Brohm is a good coach.
Will the Wolverines have trouble? Yes, for a little more than a half. But then, Harbaugh’s bunch is going to pull it together, ride that elite offensive line and the backfield of Donovan Edwards and Corum (if he’s healthy). J.J. McCarthy will make enough plays to make the final score look more lopsided than how the game really developed.
Make Your Picks: The Playoff 4
I believe the selection committee made a flawless list in the updated rankings, keeping Georgia at No. 1, bumping Michigan to No. 2 and holding TCU and USC in the last slots. Those rankings will likely stay the same after each of these teams win their conference titles.
If Utah had a healthy Cam Rising, I'd pick Utah over USC again. However, his limited mobility following his apparent knee injury is a concern. USC wins, keeping the same order as we see today: Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC.
I hoped for controversy. I always pull for chaos. But we won't be getting much of either this weekend. Georgia beats LSU, Michigan takes care of Purdue and both TCU and USC lock in their first-ever CFP appearances.
I see no major surprises happening this weekend, so allow me to regurgitate the current rankings for you: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 USC in the Peach Bowl and No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. I believe Georgia, Michigan and TCU are in no matter what, and the only thing hanging in the balance is Ohio State potentially replacing USC if it loses to Utah. But the Trojans win anyway.
There obviously could be a lot of chaos on championship weekend, especially in the Big 12 and Pac-12 title games. I wouldn't be surprised if both TCU and USC stumble. But having faith in both teams rising to the occasion, I'll go with Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC.
Georgia will win easily over LSU to stay at No. 1, and Michigan will survive Purdue to stay second. TCU’s magic will run out, but the game will be close enough to keep it in the Top Four. USC jumps the Frogs following a revenge win over Utah.