College Football Picks: Week 15 Predictions for Every Game

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2019

College Football Picks: Week 15 Predictions for Every Game

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The 2019 college football season has finally reached its make-or-break moment. Ten conference championships are at stake on this much-anticipated December weekend.

    More notably, however, four programs will move one step closer toward the ultimate goal of a national title.

    Ohio State, LSU and Clemson enter their respective championship games with 12-0 records. If they win, they're guaranteed a place in the upcoming College Football Playoff. Since Georgia plays LSU, a victory propels the Bulldogs to the CFP too.

    But if those favorites back up their billings, the final CFP position will be between Oklahoma (or maybe Baylor) and Utah.

    We'll break down all of those marquee matchups, along with the rest of the championship games. The predictions are ordered alphabetically based on conference. All betting lines are courtesy of Caesars and accurate as of Tuesday.

AAC: No. 20 Cincinnati at No. 17 Memphis

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

    Line: Memphis -9

    Last week, Memphis earned a 34-24 victory over Cincinnati to win the division and secure home field for this contest. The rematch will have a different feel because the Bearcats will have a different quarterback.

    "Desmond Ridder is our quarterback," head coach Luke Fickell said, per Fletcher Page of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I think for what he's done here over the last two years, there is no doubt who our quarterback is. ... We held him out last week."

    Ridder missed the loss because of a shoulder injury. His return, though, won't necessarily provide the boost Cincinnati wants.

    In four November games, Ridder completed just 47.8 percent of his passes with 4.9 yards per attempt. The Bearcats have a superb defense, but Memphis notched 34 points last week while only scoring a touchdown on one of four red-zone trips.

    The Tigers still have untapped offensive upside, and it'll carry them to another victory over Cincinnati.

    Prediction: Memphis 38, Cincinnati 28

ACC: No. 23 Virginia vs. No. 3 Clemson

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

    Line: Clemson -28.5

    Wouldn't it be nice if the ACC Championship Game was competitive again? During the last two seasons, Clemson has cruised to 38-3 and 42-10 victories over Miami and Pittsburgh.

    My mother taught me lying is irresponsible, though.

    Virginia has allowed 27-plus points in four straight games. Clemson, meanwhile, saw a streak of 45-plus points end at six last weekwhen it merely enjoyed a 38-3 triumph.

    Head coach Bronco Mendenhall's Cavaliers will require some substantial turnover luck to compete with the four-time reigning ACC champions.

    Prediction: Clemson 41, Virginia 21

Big Ten: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Wisconsin

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET (Fox)

    Line: Ohio State -16.5

    So, yeah, about the lying thing. It applies here too.

    Considering the competition, Wisconsin just played its best game of the seasonor at least its best since wrecking Michigan in September. The Badgers rolled Minnesota (now 10-2) for a 38-17 victory, while Jack Coan threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns.

    But...

    ...Wisconsin fell to Ohio State 38-7 in late October, and the Buckeyes haven't showed any reason to suggest the massive gap has closed. They've defeated 11 of 12 teams by at least 24 points, and the lone outlier is an 11-point triumph over then-No. 8 (in CFP rankings) Penn State.

    Plus, through six games, the Badgers had allowed a meager 4.1 yards per pass attempt. In the second half, they've surrendered 7.9.

    Unless that suffocating defense returns, Wisconsin doesn't have a shot to dethrone the Buckeyes.

    Prediction: Ohio State 45, Wisconsin 21

Big 12: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 6 Oklahoma

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Noon ET (ABC)

    Line: Oklahoma -8

    Two early turnovers nearly crushed Oklahoma when it traveled to Baylor in November, but Jalen Hurts and Co. overcame a 28-3 deficit to stun the hometown crowd.

    Looking ahead to the rematch, most everyone expects the Sooners to score plenty of points, right? The nation's most prolific (564.3 yards per game) and fifth-highest scoring offense (44.3) has earned that projection, regardless of opponent.

    So, will Oklahoma keep playing solid defense? Or will Baylor head coach Matt Rhule have a more effective approach this time around? Because without the takeaways, November's game could've been ugly.

    The Sooners held the Bears to 307 yards and have since limited TCU and Oklahoma State to 204 and 335, respectively. If they're anywhere close to that level of performance, the final score will be lopsided in OU's favor.

    Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Baylor 24

Conference USA: UAB at Florida Atlantic

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

    Line: Florida Atlantic -7.5

    UAB overhauled the roster this offseason yet still managed a return to the Conference USA title game. That alone is a major accomplishment, considering the amount of production the Blazers lost.

    But the one glaring issue is UAB's struggles outside of Birmingham, Alabama.

    While the Blazers are 6-0 at home with 31.5 points per game, they're an uninspiring 3-3 with an 18.7-point average on the road. They need to avoid mistakes, and that trend isn't favorable either.

    Florida Atlantic's defense isn't great, but the opportunistic unit leads the FBS with 29 takeaways. Conversely, only 11 teams have committed more turnovers than UAB's 23. That difference may be what propels FAU to its second conference title in three years.

    Prediction: Florida Atlantic 24, UAB 20

MAC: Miami (Ohio) vs. Central Michigan

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Noon ET (ESPN2)

    Line: CMU -7

    Last season, Central Michigan slumped to a 1-11 record and fired head coach John Bonamego. What a difference one year makes.

    Former Florida boss Jim McElwain has quickly steered the Chips in the right direction with the help of transfer quarterback Quinten Dormady. He's riding a five-game streak of 250-plus yards into Detroit, where a respectable yet vulnerable Miami (Ohio) team awaits.

    The RedHawks are typically good defensively, and that unit carried them to a quartet of one-score wins in the second half of the season. However, the team just surrendered 578 yards in a 41-27 loss at Ball State.

    Since the offense has only eclipsed 30 points against two FBS opponents this year, Miami is leaning heavily on its defense to compete. The Dormady-led CMU offensewhich has scored 38-plus points in six of the last seven gameswill be too much to handle.

    Prediction: Central Michigan 31, Miami 23

Mountain West: Hawaii at No. 19 Boise State

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Line: Boise State -14

    You've probably heard the saying "when you have two quarterbacks, you have none." Boise State is working on being an exception to that rule and has committed to its third-stringer.

    According to Ron Counts of the Idaho Statesman, head coach Bryan Harsin has named Jaylon Henderson the starter for the Mountain West Conference title game. Over the last three contests, the senior has thrown for 732 yards and eight touchdowns with a single interception.

    So, this is a different Boise State offense than the one that demolished Hawaii 59-37 in October. The result shouldn't change, though.

    Hawaii still has a high-powered attack, but the Warriors have ceded at least 6.8 yards per play in six of their last eight outings and committed the most turnovers in the FBS. That's not a recipe for success on the blue turf against the 11-1 Broncos.

    Prediction: Boise State 42, Hawaii 31

Pac-12: No. 5 Utah vs. No. 13 Oregon

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    When: Friday, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)

    Line: Utah -6

    After a poor performance in a loss to Arizona State two weeks ago, Justin Herbert mustered a season-worst 5.8 yards per attempt in a victory over Oregon State. The divisive NFL prospect isn't playing at a high level, and he's about to face an elite defense.

    Not a great combination.

    Utah ranks fourth nationally at 5.7 yards allowed per pass, holding eight straight opponents at 6.1 or below. The Utes also permit an FBS-low 2.3 yards per carry. And since 2018, Herbert has regularly failed to propel Oregon when the running game struggles.

    While the Ducks should hang around because of their strong defense, the secondary is prone to lapses. Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley, who is averaging 11.1 yards per attempt, will provide the winning difference.

    Prediction: Utah 27, Oregon 20

SEC: No. 4 Georgia vs. No. 2 LSU

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET (CBS)

    Line: LSU -7.5

    Last week, the College Football Playoff selection committee pointed to LSU's merely above-average defense as one justification for lifting Ohio State to No. 1 in the rankings.

    The Tigers responded by holding a decent Texas A&M offense to 169 yards and seven points.

    That is what an unimpressive Georgia attack didn't want to see. Before shredding a hapless Georgia Tech defense in Week 14, the Dawgs had mustered just 4.9 yards per play over their last four games.

    Georgia has a tremendous defense, and the strength is in the secondary. Few teams are better prepared to contain LSU's sensational offense led by Heisman Trophy favorite Joe Burrow. But the Dawgs need to match a potentially explosive performance, and they've not inspired much confidence lately that it's a possibility.

    Prediction: LSU 34, Georgia 24     

Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 21 Appalachian State

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Noon ET (ESPN)

    Line: Appalachian State -6

    Defense ruled the day when Appalachian State traveled to Louisiana and pulled out a 17-7 victory over the Ragin' Cajuns in October. And now that App State is at home, the narrative will probably be the same.

    Since the clash, only two of the Mountaineers' seven opponents have crested 15 points. Additionally, Louisiana-Lafayette has allowed more than 20 points just two times in the same stretch.

    Taking advantage of scoring opportunities will be crucial, and Appalachian State holds the edge in the red zone.

    The Mountaineers rank fourth nationally with a stellar 80 percent red-zone touchdown rate. The Ragin' Cajuns need the best version of their red-zone defense (16th nationally) to show up; otherwise, they must be near-perfect opposite a stingy, 19th-ranked App State defense (321.2 yards allowed per game).

    That's a huge burden for the offense to shoulder.

    Prediction: Appalachian State 24, Louisiana 16