The first full weekend of December delivers a promising slate of college football conference championship games. Most of the focus will be on the Power Five conferences, with an eye toward the College Football Playoff field being revealed on Sunday.
No. 5 Utah (11-1) vs. No. 13 Oregon (10-2)
Friday, December 6 | 8:00 PM ET | ABC
The CFP Committee has given Utah a lot of respect this season, and for good reason: The Utes have the nation’s No. 3 scoring defense (11.3 points allowed per game), and their average scoring margin is +23.7 this season. Aside from their loss to USC in September and their five-point victory over Washington on November 2, Utah has beaten every team by at least 18 points, so they’ve been consistently dominant in the Pac-12. However, Oregon also boasts a top-ten defense (15.8 points allowed per game), and the Ducks have senior quarterback and Eugene native Justin Herbert, who is looking to end his final conference game with his first conference championship, leading their offense—I won’t discount a four-year starter making a huge impact. This matchup should be the best bet for a slugfest after last year’s Pac-12 title game was a 10-3 contest (Washington topped Utah).
Prediction: Oregon 17, Utah 14
Big 12 Championship
No. 7 Baylor (11-1) vs. No. 6 Oklahoma (11-1)
Saturday, December 7 | 12:00 PM ET | ABC
The first matchup between Baylor and Oklahoma was a tale of two halves, with Baylor controlling the first 30 minutes before Oklahoma took control late. In the fourth quarter, the Sooners scored 17 points to cap a 24-0 second half, and aside from Jalen Hurts (who wasn’t his sharpest that night) basically willing his team to a win to avoid getting knocked out of Playoff contention, it was the defense that stepped up and made critical plays to help turn the tide in the game. The key to the rematch might be the defense that can make a gamechanging play (big sack, turnover, or third/fourth down stop), and the Bears (18.4 points allowed per game) might have the edge there going into the contest considering the play of their defense this season. But the Sooners will have star receiver CeeDee Lamb this time around, which gives the offense and entire team a boost.
Prediction: Oklahoma 33, Baylor 28
No. 4 Georgia (11-1) vs. No. 2 LSU (12-0)
Saturday, December 7 | 3:00 PM ET | CBS
As is typically the case with the SEC Championship, this year’s game sells itself. LSU has opened up its offense and is having a remarkable, record-breaking season led by clear Heisman favorite Joe Burrow at quarterback, and they’ll be facing a Georgia defense that is second in the country in points allowed (10.4 per game, behind only Clemson at 10.1 per game) and has not allowed 21 points to any opponent this season. Kirby Smart gets his defense to play incredibly consistent, and his unit should be the biggest test for the Tigers offense this season. Georgia’s offense against LSU’s defense is nearly as intriguing. LSU has not had a top-tier defense this year, but they are very talented and could have the advantage outside (especially with UGA wide receiver Lawrence Cager out with an ankle injury and George Pickens suspended for the first half after getting ejected in the second half last week against Georgia Tech), making things more difficult on the supremely underrated Jake Fromm. I think the difference in the game will be the talent of LSU’s receiving corps compared to Georgia’s.
Prediction: LSU 27, Georgia 20
No. 23 Virginia (9-3) vs. No. 3 Clemson (12-0)
Saturday, December 7 | 7:30 PM ET | ABC
Dabo Swinney already set the tone for his team this week when he said they have to go “30-and-0” to have any shot at the Playoff, so Clemson will undoubtedly be ready to play—as they always are at this time of year. Most people expect the Tigers to dominate, and if not, many classify it as a disappointment or subpar performance; but Virginia is not some pushover team after a 9-3 regular season. The Cavaliers rallied for 19 fourth-quarter points in their win over Virginia Tech to clinch an opportunity in the ACC Championship Game (their first), and dual threat quarterback Bryce Perkins is not an easy player to defend. But Clemson has too much firepower not to extend their winning streak to 28 games.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Virginia 13
Big Ten Championship
No. 1 Ohio State (12-0) vs. No 8 Wisconsin (10-2)
Saturday, December 7 | 8:00 PM ET | FOX
Like the Big 12, the Big Ten’s title game is a rematch from the regular season, but the first matchup went a lot differently. Ohio State demolished Wisconsin by 31 points at the end of October, and Wisconsin’s then-No. 1 defense has since taken a step back from completely shutting down most teams. But the Badgers are now clicking in a big way offensively. Superstar running back Jonathan Taylor (limited to 52 rushing yards versus the Buckeyes in the first game) had a stretch of three consecutive 200-yard games in November, and quarterback Jack Coan had one of the best games of his season in last week’s win at Minnesota. Ultimately, talented sophomore quarterback Justin Fields benefitting from J.K. Dobbins and the rushing attack setting up play-action passes to his stacked offensive weapons will likely be tough for the Badgers to slow down.
Prediction: Ohio State 37, Wisconsin 21