B/R Experts Answer Biggest CFB Questions for Week 15

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2019

B/R Experts Answer Biggest CFB Questions for Week 15

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    Ten league titles and four College Football Playoff spots are at stake during conference championship weekend. Every team ranked in the Top Eight will be in action, and the results will shape both the CFP and the other four marquee bowl games.

    And in this edition of expert predictions, we're not wasting any time. You want picks; we have straightforward questions.

    Who wins the Power Five championships? Which team from a Group of Five league will be in a New Year's Six Bowl? And, finally, which four programs are going to the College Football Playoff?

    Bleacher Report's expertsDavid Kenyon, Kerry Miller, Joel Reuter and Brad Shepardoffered their takes on these pivotal games.

Pac-12 Championship Game: No. 5 Utah or No. 13 Oregon?

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    This is the moment for Justin Herbert to prove he's worthy of the draft hype. He rarely commits turnoversgoodbut has often struggled against top competitionbad. And Utah merely boasts one of the nation's three best defenses. Utah can limit Herbert's effectiveness and has enough of a punch on offense with Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss to win a 27-20 game.

               

    Kerry Miller

    Oregon's offense has struggled against above-average defenses, and even against a few subpar ones. The Ducks were held below 25 points and below 405 total yards four times this season, including last week's Civil War against Oregon State. And if you can't move the ball against the Beavers, Stanford or Cal, why should we believe you can do it against Utah? That Oregon defense should slow down the Utes better than others have, but it won't be enough to overcome an inability to score. Utah wins 24-10 on Friday night and puts all of the pressure on Oklahoma and Georgia.

             

    Joel Reuter

    The Oregon offense has been sputtering a bit of late, and that doesn't bode well for the matchup with Utah. The Utes have the best rushing defense in the nation (56.3 yards per game) and they can get after the quarterback (29 sacks). The Ducks are unquestionably the best team they've seen all season, but Utes will prove to be up to the task. Utah 28, Oregon 24.

              

    Brad Shepard

    I'll play contrarian again in this one. Utah has been the best team in the Pac-12 all season, but the Ducks are the most talented team in the league. They slipped up against Arizona State, but the Ducks have the best quarterback in the game, and Justin Herbert is going to make the winning play. I can't wait for this defensive slugfest, but I'm going with Oregon, 24-20.

Big 12 Championship Game: No. 7 Baylor or No. 6 Oklahoma?

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    Ray Carlin/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Call me stubborn, but I'm making the same prediction as I did last time. I thought Oklahoma would cruise past Baylor before the Bears nearly turned the prediction on its head with the early 28-3 lead. However, they barely hit 300 yards of offense in that game but capitalized on a couple of takeaways. If the Sooners protect the ball, they'll win a blowout.

              

    Kerry Miller

    The Sooners would never say this out loud, but they weren't ready for the first game against Baylor. They looked at the Bears and saw the same thing everyone else saw: An undefeated record held together by scotch tape and bubble gum. It wasn't until Baylor scored 28 points in the span of 10 minutes that Oklahoma finally snapped out of it and began to play with a sense of urgency. This time around, the Sooners will be ready and they'll be better. After two-and-a-half games of abject horror, their defense has been much better lately. They'll keep that going for a much-needed statement win, 45-17.

              

    Joel Reuter

    Limiting turnovers will once again be the key for the Sooners. They coughed it up three times when the two teams met earlier this year, with two of those leading to touchdowns on the other side. Baylor (+12, T-5th in FBS) has one of the best turnover margins in the nation, while it's been an issue all season for Oklahoma (-5, T-97 in FBS). After digging deep for a 25-point comeback in their last meeting, the Sooners fall off the tightrope this time. Baylor 38, Oklahoma 31.

               

    Brad Shepard

    You think Matt Rhule's Bears might want revenge from the only game that got away from them this season? Yes, Oklahoma stormed back from 25 points down to win the regular-season battle, but I'm a Baylor believer. Oklahoma's defense has played better recently, but can it be trusted? Rhule is the best coach in the Big 12, and I like him to scheme up the Sooners and shake up the playoff.

SEC Championship Game: No. 4 Georgia or No. 2 LSU?

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Georgia's defense is a perfect example of how a modern defense can thrive. The Bulldogs aren't overwhelming up front, but they're merciless in coverage and have surrendered only 5.4 yards per pass attempt. However, expecting them to stop an explosive LSU offense for 60 minutes is unwise. And I do not believe Georgia's offense can handle a 30-point game.

              

    Kerry Miller

    We like to say that defense wins championships, but it won't win this one. As great as Georgia's defense is, LSU's offense is better. Joe Burrow is going to put the finishing touches on perhaps the most absurdly dominant start-to-finish Heisman run of all time, pacing the Tigers to a 35-26 victory. And for the sake of the Dawg Pound, here's hoping Kirby Smart doesn't draw up a ridiculous 4th-and-11 fake punt like he did in last year's SEC Championship Game loss.

              

    Joel Reuter

    The high-powered LSU offense against a Georgia defense that has allowed just 10.4 points per game (2nd in the FBS). This one has the makings of a battle for the ages. That said, Burrow had no problem torching an Alabama defense that ranks 11th in the FBS in passing defense, and that will be the difference in this one. LSU 27, Georgia 20.

               

    Brad Shepard

    LSU is the best team in the country, and I don't think it's close. When Burrow is on, nobody can stop him and his receiving corps. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the most underappreciated player in the SEC, too. They're going to be playing against the SEC's best defense, and the Bulldogs will slow them some. But it won't be enough. With the issues Jake Fromm has experienced this year in James Coley's system, I don't see UGA scoring enough to win. LSU will win 34-23.

ACC Championship Game: No. 23 Virginia or No. 3 Clemson?

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    David Kenyon

    Against the two best defenses on the scheduleNotre Dame and MiamiVirginia totaled 29 points. And Clemson, well, this defense is on an entirely different level. I won't bother wasting your time suggesting Virginia can pull off a miraculous upset.

              

    Kerry Miller

    Virginia's offense has gotten into quite the groove during its four-game winning streak, but beating up on the likes of Georgia Tech and Liberty is hardly a proper warm-up for trying to take down a juggernaut that has not allowed 300 yards in a game all season. Over his last five games, Trevor Lawrence has completed 76.0 percent of his pass attempts for 16 touchdowns with no interceptions. Safe to say "the sky is falling" reactions to the bumpy start to his sophomore campaign were premature. Clemson cruises 48-13.

              

    Joel Reuter

    Clemson ranks second in the FBS in total defense (232.8 yards allowed per game) and Virginia ranks 82nd in total offense (390.3 per game). That's going to be the story of this game. The Cavaliers have played well of late, winning four in a row and five of six, and they have a solid defense. However, they simply do not have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Tigers. Clemson 35, Virginia 14.

               

    Brad Shepard

    For the second year in a row, the ACC Championship Game is going to be a joke. The Hoos are a nice story, and the season was made when they ended a 15-year streak of futility against Virginia Tech, but they aren't ready for this. Clemson is going to do what it wants on both sides of the ball and win 45-14.

Big Ten Championship Game: No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Ohio State?

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    David Kenyon

    During the regular-season clash, Wisconsin hung around into the third quarter. Given the long third-down conversions Ohio State converted early, the Badgers actually still have room to improve defensively in this matchup. However, that once-dominant unit hasn't performed as well lately, and Ohio State's defense is just overwhelming. Unless Jack Coan can push the ball downfield, the Buckeyes win easily.

              

    Kerry Miller

    It was a tale of two seasons for Wisconsin. Through six weeks, the Badgers had the most impenetrable defense in the nation. Opponents were averaging 3.06 total yards per play. Since then, however, all six opponents have put up at least 5.55 yards per play against the Badgers, and there's no chance that will be good enough to beat the most well-rounded team in the country. Jonathan Taylor will fare a little better than he did in the first meeting with the Buckeyes, but it's not going to be one of his eight-yards-per-carry kind of days. Ohio State rolls into the CFP with a 35-14 victory.

              

    Joel Reuter

    When Ohio State and Wisconsin squared off earlier this season, the Buckeyes cruised to a 38-7 victory and limited Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor to just 52 yards on 20 carries. Meanwhile, J.K. Dobbins ran wild on the Wisconsin defense, racking up 221 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns. It's been over two months since that game, but I expect a similar outcome. Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 17.

               

    Brad Shepard

    You know Wisconsin wants this rematch after the Buckeyes buried the Badgers earlier this season. That was during the rough two-game stretch coach Paul Chryst's team would like to forget. The Buckeyes are on another level talent-wise, but Wisconsin is disciplined enough to keep this close a while. I think OSU eventually pulls away, but this will be a four-quarter game that the Buckeyes win 30-20.

Which Group of 5 Team Earns the New Year's Six Bowl Bid?

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Memphis is the clear front-runner in the NY6 race; Boise State toppling Hawaii shouldn't propel the Broncos past Memphis. So, a win and the Tigers are headed to the Cotton Bowl. Cincinnati has a feisty defense, but the offense is too limited to trust. Desmond Ridder is back, yes, but he hadn't been playing well before the injury anyway.

               

    Kerry Miller

    I went with all five favorites in the big games, but I do see one substantial upset taking place this weekend: Cincinnati upends Memphis in the AAC title game, opening the door for Boise State to sneak into the Cotton Bowl. Despite returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown and forcing two more turnovers than it committed, Memphis wasn't particularly convincing in its 34-24 win over the Bearcats last Friday. Cincinnati comes back to town and stuns the Tigers while Boise State easily takes care of Hawaii.

               

    Joel Reuter

    If Memphis can beat a good Cincinnati team in back-to-back weeks, it's going to be awfully difficult for the committee to justify anyone else filling the Group of Five spot in the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers offense was held in check last Friday and the team still found a way to win by 10 points, thanks in part to the defense forcing three turnovers. This time around, the Memphis offense will find its way, leading to a lopsided Round 2.

               

    Brad Shepard

    Memphis is the best Group of Five team, and I didn't believe that until the Cincinnati game a week ago. The Bearcats get a chance to break their heart and put Boise State in (because I don't see the Broncos losing to Hawaii at home). But Memphis has enough defense to keep Cincy and its quarterback issues from scoring a lot, and the Tigers have offensive weapons to put up some points. Win (at home) and they're in.

Which 4 Teams Make the College Football Playoff?

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Ohio State, LSU, Clemson and Oklahoma, in that order. I think Utah deserves it more. The Utes have dominated on both sides of the ball, and their only letdown was a midweek loss on the road while missing their star running back. However, I believe the committee will go with Oklahoma instead, using three Top 25 wins and a more dominant championship game victory as justification.

              

    Kerry Miller

    No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Oklahoma. It'll be a fierce debate between Oklahoma and Utah for the final spot, but I've been projecting the Sooners as the winner of that argument for the past month and I can't change course now. For what it's worth, I believe Utah is the better team. But when you enter conference championship weekend with an 0-1 record against the current AP Top 25, the proverbial eye test can only do so much.

    (Also for what it's worth, my official rooting interest is whatever it takes to get us LSU vs. Oklahoma in a semifinal, because I want to watch a 63-59 type of game to determine a spot in the national championship.)

                

    Joel Reuter

    If things play out as I've predicted, the committee will be choosing between one-loss Utah and one-loss Baylor to join LSU, Ohio State and Clemson. Is a win over No. 6 Oklahoma to avenge its only loss of the season enough for Baylor to jump three spots and over Utah into the No. 4 slot? I don't think it is, especially since No. 13 Oregon would be a quality win in Utah's ledger as well. So final answer: LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Utah.

             

    Brad Shepard

    This could blow your mind, but based on my prediction I'm going with Clemson, Ohio State, LSU and...drumroll, please...Baylor. If the Bears win the rematch with the Sooners and Oregon beats Utah, I think that's enough to put Rhule's team in.