Championship Week is upon us in college football, when several of the country’s top-tier teams can cement their final cases for College Football Playoff consideration. Can Florida spoil Alabama’s title hopes? Will high-scoring North Carolina hand Clemson its first loss of the season? We break down the best matchups to watch Saturday.
1. No. 22 Temple at No. 19 Houston, Noon ET, ABC
The Group of Five’s representative in a New Year’s Six bowl should be decided in the American Athletic Conference championship between Temple and Houston. Coach Matt Rhule and the Owls are in fairly uncharted territory; their program hasn’t won a conference title since 1967. Now Temple’s AAC-leading defense (4.85 yards allowed per play) must stop Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who ranks third in the league with 282.9 yards of total offense per game.
2. Texas at No. 12 Baylor, Noon ET, ESPN/ESPN3
With no Big 12 title game on tap, this matchup in Waco is the only one worth watching in the conference this week. This clash won’t impact the playoff, but we’ll get to see exactly how far Texas will fall this season. The Longhorns are a dismal 4–7 in Charlie Strong’s second year in Austin, with a 0–4 record in true road games—they’ve been outscored 150–30 in those matchups. Baylor, meanwhile, is likely headed to the Sugar Bowl with a win over Texas, so Art Briles’s team still has something to play for.
1. No. 18 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama, 4 pm. ET, CBS
Thanks its 27–2 loss to Florida State last week, Florida is no longer vying for playoff contention. That means the SEC’s national title hopes rest on Alabama taking care of business against the Gators in the Georgia Dome. The good news is the Crimson Tide are hitting their stride: They’ve won nine straight games since a Sept. 19 loss to Ole Miss and boast the SEC’s No. 1 defense, allowing 4.14 yards per play. Now that defense gets to face quarterback Treon Harris and a Florida offense that failed to score a point against the Seminoles. Things could get ugly in Atlanta.
1. No. 10 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Clemson, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
The last time Clemson held a 12–0 record, in 1981, it won the national championship. But these Tigers must win three more contests to reach the promised land. That challenge begins in the ACC title game, where Clemson meets a North Carolina offense that leads the league in scoring (41.3 points per game). Expect plenty of production in this one; quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Marquise Williams are two of the ACC’s top three players in total offense per game. Fans of chaos in the playoff race should cheer for the Tar Heels in this one.
2. No. 20 USC vs. No. 7 Stanford, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN3
On its own, the Pac-12 title game should have the least impact on the current playoff picture. But if chaos unfolds in other leagues, Stanford could still shake things up by beating USC. The Cardinal do have two losses, both to top 25 teams (Northwestern and Oregon), but could the committee keep them out of the playoff if, say, Clemson or Alabama loses? Of course, it won’t matter if Christian McCaffrey (252.9 all-purpose yards per game, No. 1 in FBS) and Stanford can’t stop the four-loss Trojans, who have won five of their last six games.
3. No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Iowa, 8 p.m. ET, FOX
Folks are finally coming around to the concept of a playoff-bound Iowa squad. But that dream won’t come to fruition if the Hawkeyes can’t get past Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Iowa’s defense is no joke, ranking fourth nationally in turnover margin (+14) and featuring defensive back Desmond King, who has an FBS-leading eight interceptions. But Spartans quarterback Conner Cook has lost just twice in 24 games as a starter against Big Ten foes. The winner in Indianapolis should feel pretty comfortable about its playoff worth.