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Championship Weekend Picks: Will Upsets Shake Up the Playoff Rankings?

No game can be taken for granted as the season winds down—especially not games with conference titles on the line.
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Just a handful of games stand between us and the release of the 2018 College Football Playoff field, and a season that has been dominated by powerhouse programs flexing their muscles at the right time will fittingly come down to a weekend in which most of the remaining playoff contenders are heavy favorites in their conference championship games. But as the season always shows us, no win can be taken for granted. Will Oklahoma avenge its Red River Showdown loss to Texas? Can Georgia flip the script in a rematch of last year’s national title game?

Below, our writers and editors take turns defending their straight-up picks for the biggest games of the Week 14 slate.

Season-long standings
Scooby Axson: 109–45 (70.8%)
Ross Dellenger: 108–46 (70.1%)
Max Meyer: 105–49 (68.1%)
Molly Geary: 104–50 (67.5%)
Joan Niesen: 100–54 (64.9%)
Andy Staples: 100–54 (64.9%)
Laken Litman: 96–58 (62.3%)
Eric Single: 91–63 (59.0%)

MAC: Northern Illinois vs. Buffalo (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)


Laken Litman picks Buffalo: After starting the season 1–3, Northern Illinois proceeded to win its next six conference games and clinch its seventh divisional title in nine years. However, the Huskies are coming off two consecutive losses and now face a 10-win Buffalo team led by QB Tyree Jackson. The Bulls are scoring 35.3 points per game, third-best in the league, while the Huskies are mustering a second-worst 19.9 ppg. NIU will be hard-pressed to keep up.

Pac-12: Utah vs. Washington (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, FOX)


Max Meyer picks Washington: It pains me to pick the favorite in the #ConferenceOfUnderdogs championship game, but it'll be tough for a Utah offense already impacted by injuries to score on this stingy Washington defense. Not that the Huskies will put up a high number of points either, but I'll roll with Chris Petersen, that incredible secondary, Myles Gaskin and, gulp, Jake Browning to win their second Pac-12 title in the past three years.

Big 12: Texas vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC)


Laken Litman picks Oklahoma: With a potential spot in the College Football Playoff on the line, Oklahoma can’t afford to have three turnovers (like last time) or allow Texas to rack up more than 500 yards of total offense (like last time). The problem with that last stat is that firing former defensive coordinator Mike Stoops—the day after the loss to Texas in October—hasn’t made much of a difference. OU is giving up a Big 12-worst 449 yards per game, and in the Sooners’ last four wins, opponents have averaged 47.3 points—even Kansas scored 40. But no matter how many points OU allows, Kyler Murray and the nation’s most prolific offense will combat that weakness by scoring even more.

Sun Belt: Louisiana vs. App State (Noon ET, ESPN)


Scooby Axson picks Appalachian State: The first-ever Sun Belt title game will feature a rematch from Oct. 20, which resulted in a 27–17 Appalachian State win. The Mountaineers have the conference’s best scoring offense and defense and will be looking for their third double-digit-win season in the last four years. Expect a heavy dose of running from quarterback Zac Thomas and his backfield mate Darrynton Evans. The winner punches its ticket to the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 15.

Marshall at Virginia Tech (Noon ET, ACC Network)


Joan Niesen picks Marshall: Games like this one that are manufactured to get a traditional power bowl eligible have in the past made me itch to pull for the opponent playing with nothing to lose. Usually, like in last year's Florida State-Louisiana Monroe matchup, it's the underdog--but that's not the case here. Marshall is 8–3, riding a three-game winning streak and in possession of a strong defense, and it has the power to go into Blacksburg and end the Hokies' bowl streak, which dates back to 1993.

C-USA: UAB at Middle Tennessee (1:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)


Ross Dellenger picks Middle Tennessee: This is a rematch of a game from a week ago, also in Murfreesboro, that saw the Blue Raiders trounce the Blazers 27–3. Maybe UAB can adjust its game plan and keep it close, but Middle Tennessee and senior QB Brent Stockstill repeat as victors.

Stanford at Cal (3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)


Max Meyer picks Cal: Cal hasn't surrendered more than 21 points to any opponent over its past six games, and I think this defense will be able to shut down a Stanford offense that is overly reliant on the 50/50 ball (or since the Cardinal have giant targets, the 60/40 ball). Stanford's offensive line has been a disappointment this season, and the Golden Bears certainly have the capability to be the latest defensive front to gain an upper hand on that unit. Cal will continue its surprise season with an outright win as a home underdog.

AAC: Memphis at UCF (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)


Eric Single picks UCF: If the Knights could not avoid being stricken with a devastating late-season injury to quarterback McKenzie Milton, at least they were given a full half of football to regroup and settle into their new reality before playing an AAC title game with a New Year's Six bowl trip on the line. With a complete week of prep, backup quarterback Darriel Mack can keep at least UCF's running game humming, and the Knights' defense has made big strides since their first meeting with Memphis (although there should be little stopping running back Darrel Henderson from running wild). What is expected to be a raucous Spectrum Stadium crowd won't let UCF's run end on its home turf.

SEC: Alabama vs. Georgia (4 p.m. ET, CBS)


Andy Staples picks Alabama: It's probably better for the SEC if Georgia wins because that probably would mean the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide make the playoff. But the Bulldogs still might be a year away from turning this into a matchup of equals.

MW: Fresno State at Boise State (7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)


Molly Geary picks Boise State: Fresno State hasn't won in Boise, an extremely tough place to play for anyone, in this series since 1984. I went against my better judgment in taking the Bulldogs anyway when the two met earlier this month at Albertsons Stadium, and the Broncos pulled off a big comeback to win. I'm not making the same mistake twice.

ACC: Clemson vs. Pitt (8 p.m. ET, ABC)


Ross Dellenger picks Clemson: The ACC Coastal is pretty dreadful. The Panthers won the division despite five losses. This is a team that Penn State whipped 51–6 and UCF throttled 45–14. Pitt ended the regular season with a 24–3 loss to Miami. This one shouldn't be close.

Big Ten: Northwestern vs. Ohio State (8 p.m. ET, FOX)


Joan Niesen picks Ohio State: There's no argument here that Ohio State won't be riled up, due to the caliber of their opponent. Sure, the Buckeyes are getting the conference's fourth- or fifth-best team in Northwestern, but a playoff spot is on the line, and Ohio State needs to impress. There are questions about its defense, and its offense is more than likely going to run up the score to make a statement. This won't be close.