Championship Saturday in college football presents one last chance for each team with national championship hopes to impress the committee, but viewing these contests simply as play-in games for the playoff would be a big mistake. On one hand, not every game has playoff implications (looking at you, #MACtion). But more importantly, there are so many delightful tidbits that get lost if your narrow your focus to the postseason.
As Ferris Bueller so eloquently said: "Championship Sunday is filled with plenty of notable non-playoff storylines. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
Here's one storyline to keep in mind for each game as you plant your bottom on the couch for 12 consecutive hours of college football on Saturday (not to mention four hours on Friday). The focus of this will be the games themselves rather than their playoff implications; Should you desire a more playoff-oriented preview, our Chris Johnson has you covered.
Pac-12: No. 10 USC vs. No. 12 Stanford - 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN
Two of the nation's best running backs will be on display at Levi's Stadium.
Stanford's Bryce Love has received a ton of national attention and will be a Heisman finalist, all deservedly so. Love has rushed for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns on an absurd 8.6 yards per carry, and he's been held below 100 yards rushing just once this season. But Love isn't the only stud back who will be on the field in Santa Clara. USC's Ronald Jones III has flown under the radar this year, but his numbers speak for themselves: 1,346 yards, 16 touchdowns, 6.3 yards per carry. Both players ate when these teams met in Week 2, a game USC won 42-24; Love ran for 160 yards and a score, while Jones managed 116 yards and two touchdowns. And over each team's last four games, Jones III has actually been the more productive player (674 yards, eight touchdowns vs. Love's 461 yards, five touchdowns), though Love has dealt with a sprained ankle. Look for both teams to involve their workhorses early and often.
AAC: No. 20 Memphis at No 15 UCF - 12 p.m. ET, ABC
How much of a distraction will the Scott Frost-Nebraska public flirtation be?
UCF coach Scott Frost is one of the hottest coaching commodities in the country. After all, he took over a UCF program that went 0-12 in 2015, and two seasons later he has the Knights undefeated and on an inside track to a New Years Six bowl. That alone would be enough to pique the interest of Nebraska, which recently fired coach Mike Riley, but when you consider that Frost is from Nebraska and started at quarterback for the Huskers, the fit is almost too good to be true. Frost has been non-committal about his returning to UCF in 2018—that's never a good sign—and there's growing belief that he refused a second interview with Florida because he's set on Nebraska. During a news conference leading up to the title game, Frost said he'd be "hurt" if Nebraska wasn't interested. If you read between the lines, Frost will be Nebraska's next head coach, but how much will his probable departure affect his team? And if UCF does emerge victorious, will Frost stick around all the way until the bowl game on New Year's Day?
Conference USA: North Texas at FAU - 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Devin Singletary is the best running back you've never heard of.
Lane Kiffin has hogged the headlines at Florida Atlantic (9-3) this season. He's turned to Twitter to recruit anyone and everyone to #thefaU. He caused patently unneeded controversy when he suggested that he ordered his punter to take a safety because he wanted to screw with the spread. And most recently, he trolled Tennessee after the Greg Schiano fiasco. While Kiffin has kept himself in the national conversation, FAU running back Devin Singletary has quietly produced an incredible season. A 5'9'' sophomore, Singletary has rushed for 1,632 yards and leads the nation with 26 rushing touchdowns (the next-closest running back is Washington's Myles Gaskin with 19). Singletary rushed for 123 yards and three scores when FAU pounded North Texas 69-31 back in October, and if FAU is to pick up its ninth straight victory and a Conference USA title, he'll be a big reason why.
MAC: Akron vs. Toledo - 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
It's a good ol' fashioned offense vs. defense battle in this, our last dose of #MACtion for the year.
Toledo (10-2) enters this all-Ohio matchup as a 21.5-point favorite, due in no small part to the fact that Toledo beat Akron 48-21 when the two teams played in October. The Rockets are a genuinely good football team with one of the nation’s top offenses—they rank ninth nationally in total offense per game (505.7 yards), 15th in scoring offense (38.7 points per game) and fifth in passing efficiency (165.88). Akron, on the other hand, has been carried by its defense, which has scored four touchdowns, forced 21 turnovers and came up with a stop when the Zips needed it most. In the second-to-last game of the season against Ohio, Akron’s Denzel Butler broke up a pass on fourth and 4 to seal the upset victory. That win, coupled with Ohio’s disappointing loss to Buffalo last week, sent the Zips to this title game.
BIG 12: No. 3 Oklahoma VS. No. 11 TCU - 12:30 P.M ET, FOX
We’ve got a controversy, and it involves...throwing footballs at opposing players during warmups?
Nothing spices up a football game quite like a mid-week controversy, and my-oh-my do we have an interesting one here in the Big 12. The seeds of this beef thing were planted when the two teams played on Nov. 11 in Norman, a game the Sooners won 38-20. During warmups, Oklahoma quarterback and noted bad boy Baker Mayfield threw a pass that struck TCU safety Niko Small on the helmet. (A tweet that showed the incident has since been deleted). Coach Lincoln Riley was later asked about the incident, and his response seemed to put blame on TCU: "They ran right through the middle of our warmups. When you do that, things like that can happen."
TCU coach Gary Patterson wasn't having any of that, and even proposed a semi-conspiracy theory of his own; Patterson suggested that throwing at opposing players in warmups is, uh, a thing they do at Texas Tech. “Baker played at Texas Tech and Lincoln was at Texas Tech, and I have a coach that was at Texas Tech,” Patterson said, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It was common practice. There was a Texas Tech pretty well-known quarterback that hit a guy from A&M in the head, and they all thought it was funny, to throw balls and do those kinds of things, back in those days. It’s their prerogative. They can do whatever they want. We’re just not going to do them here.” Keep an eye on the warmup—it could get chippy.
SEC: No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 2 Auburn - 4 p.m. ET, CBS
Just three weeks later, how different will the rematch be?
Just 21 days before these blue-bloods face off with a spot in the playoff up for grabs, Georgia came into Jordan-Hare Stadium number one in the playoff rankings. Georgia was dominated in every sense by Auburn on that day—the 40-17 scoreline was an accurate representation of just how much better the Tigers were. Since then, all Auburn has done is beat another top-ranked team in Alabama and jumped to No. 2 in the playoff rankings. And to its credit, Georgia righted the ship and took care of business against Kentucky and Georgia Tech. The stage is set for an epic rematch, and both teams have reason to feel good about the matchup. Auburn has the knowledge that when its defensive line is at its destructive best, it can dominate anyone in the country. And Georgia has a full game of film to learn from and try and identify ways to attack the Tigers. When teams meet for the second time during a season, there's often a chess-match feel because the teams are familiar with each other. Surely Kirby Smart and Gus Malzahn have a few tricks up their respective sleeves.
Mountain West: Boise State vs. No. 25 Fresno State - 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
A team across the country from this game will be watching with keen interest: the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The storyline you're going to hear about most for this game is that these teams literally played last week (Fresno State won 28-17). It's kind of a weird look for the MWC, but there's another, potentially more impactful tidbit that we're going to focus on. Alabama opened the season with what then appeared to be a monumental clash of titans against Florida State. Alabama won comfortably, but Florida State's worst season in years (currently 5-6) has all but removed any credit the Tide earned from that victory. Bama's second game of the year came against Fresno State, a team that went 1-11 in 2016. Again, Alabama eased to a 41-10 victory, but no one looked into that victory too much. Since that game, Fresno State has won eight of 10 and will finish in the top 25 with a victory on Saturday. For Alabama, a team that's squarely on the fringe of the playoff picture, every win over a ranked opponent helps tremendously. If Ohio State beats Wisconsin—and the Buckeyes are 6.5-point favorites—that early season game will be oft-cited as a quality win for Bama. He'd never admit it, but Nick Saban will be rooting for the Bulldogs on Saturday.
ACC: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 7 Miami - 8 p.m. ET, ABC
How much leeway will Miami give starting quarterback Malik Rosier?
Rosier's steady play has been a big reason for Miami's resurgence this season. The junior from Mobile, Al., has thrown for 2,807 yards, 25 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, while also managing 408 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. But he hit a bit of a speed bump during last week's loss to unranked Pittsburgh. Rosier missed too many open receivers, which led to his brief benching in favor of Evan Shirreffs. Rosier later returned to the game, and the U's coaching staff has said all the right things about Rosier to the media this week. They love the way he responded to the benching, he's their guy going forward, all that jazz. Still, Rosier's performance on Saturday warrants attention, as he's coming off one of his worst games of the season and will face one of the best defenses in the country. It will also be interesting to see whether coach Mark Richt turns to Shirreffs should the 'Canes fall behind early.
Big Ten: No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Wisconsin - 8 p.m. ET, FOX
Wisconsin's vaunted defense will be seriously tested.
Wisconsin's defense is first in the nation in yards allowed (236.9 yards per game), second in points allowed (12.0), and fifth in red zone defense. But the Badgers have faced just one offense ranked in the top 40 in scoring, and that was Florida Atlantic in the second week of the season. Ohio State is a whole other animal; the Buckeyes are fifth in the nation in scoring (43.8 points per game) and fourth in total offense (529.8 yards per game). Starting quarterback J.T. Barrett is expected to play after he was injured by a cameraman before the Michigan game. And even if he isn’t effective, Dwayne Haskins looked more than capable in relief duty last weekend. The last time these teams played in the Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State pounded Wisconsin 59-0 to sneak into the inaugural playoff. Given Wisconsin's run-first, ball-control oriented offense, the Badgers' defense will desperately want to hold the Buckeyes to half that total. Simply put, Wisconsin doesn't want a shootout.