Forde-Yard Dash: The Pivotal Games That Will Decide Division Races

Ohio State-Penn State will essentially settle the Big Ten East, and it's not the only matchup left with division stakes.
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (bowl tickets sold separately at Liberty, for the first time ever):

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THIRD QUARTER

CLINCHER GAMES AND DIVISION RACES

First off, Dash kudos to Clemson, Oregon, Georgia and Miami (Ohio). You all did your work early. All four have clinched a divisional title: Clemson in the ACC Atlantic; Oregon in the Pac-12 North; Georgia in the SEC East; and Miami in the Mid-American Conference East.

The rest of America remains in flux with two weeks to go, which makes for some good coast-to-coast drama. Here are the games that can decide division championships and berths in conference title games:

Penn State-Ohio State (21). The stakes: If the Buckeyes win, they take the Big Ten East. If the Nittany Lions win, they assume control of the division with a final-game walkover against Rutgers. The winner of this game has not only won the East, but the entire Big Ten, three seasons in a row. (Yet the winner of the East, and the entire Big Ten, also has missed the College Football Playoff three seasons in a row. That is unlikely to be the case this year.)

This has been taut, consequential football: the last three meetings have been decided by three points, one point and one point. In all three of those games, the winning team rallied from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. The last two in State College were particularly tense, with the Nittany Lions blocking a field goal at the end in 2016 and seeing their final drive die on a bad fourth-down call in 2018.

For what it’s worth, Penn State has covered the spread as an underdog in each of those three meetings. This time the line is Ohio State by a whopping 18 points.

Dash pick: Ohio State 38, Penn State 21.

In the Big Ten West: Minnesota leads Wisconsin by a game, with both heavily favored to win Saturday against Northwestern and Purdue, respectively. The title will likely come down to a Gophers-Badgers rivalry game in Minneapolis Nov. 30—arguably the most important Paul Bunyan Ax Game of them all.

Texas-Baylor (22). The stakes: A win by the Bears earns a spot in the Big 12 championship game. Even if they lose, they can lock up a spot the following week against Kansas. Texas is trying to keep slim conference championship hopes alive.

These are the embodiments of overachievement and underachievement within the Big 12—Baylor having a breakthrough season, Texas having a breakdown season (more on that later in the Dash Fourth Quarter). Still, there is reason to wonder whether Baylor’s second-half collapse against Oklahoma Saturday takes the helium out of a balloon that has stayed aloft longer than anyone expected.

Dash pick: Texas 24, Baylor 23.

TCU-Oklahoma (23). The stakes: The other spot in the Big 12 title game is likely to be decided here, with the Sooners needing only to beat the 5-5 Horned Frogs to advance to a third straight championship appearance. Oklahoma was at its best/worst in Waco Saturday night, stumbling into a 25-point hole and then roaring out of it without star receiver CeeDee Lamb. (His status is “up in the air” for Saturday, per coach Lincoln Riley on Monday.)

Oklahoma leads the Big 12 by a wide margin in number of plays longer than 30 yards. TCU is next-to-last in the league in numbers of plays allowed longer than 30 yards. The Frogs better find a way to keep a cap on the back end of the defense.

Dash pick: Oklahoma 35, TCU 17.

LSU-Arkansas (24). The stakes: Tigers win and they’re in the SEC championship. Tigers are going to win. Tigers are going to win huge against the worst team in the league. Tigers will play a delicious, high-octane offense vs. gnarly defense SEC title game against Georgia.

Dash pick: LSU 63, Arkansas 21.

Temple-Cincinnati (25). The stakes: Bearcats just need to win this game, or their regular-season finale at Memphis, to take the AAC East crown. The Owls are still in the mix, needing to win this game, beat Connecticut and hope Memphis beats Cincy. So is UCF, at 4-2 in league play. If it ends up a three-way tie at 6-2, this thing could go waaaaay down the tiebreaker procedures before declaring a winner.

Dash pick: Cincinnati 24, Temple 21. Bearcats, on a 12-game winning streak at Nippert Stadium, will stop the tiebreaker drama before it begins.

In the AAC West: There is a three-way tie for first between Memphis, SMU and Navy at 5-1, with the Tigers having beaten both the Mustangs and Midshipmen. SMU and Navy play each other this week, which should provide more clarity heading into the final weekend.

Boise State-Utah State (26). The stakes: The Broncos clinch the Mountain West Mountain Division with a victory. If the Aggies win, they could create a three-way tie with these two teams and Air Force and make for an interesting final week of play.

Dash pick: Boise State 31, Utah State 21.

San Diego State-Hawaii (27). The stakes: The other division of the Mountain West could well be decided around 2 a.m. ET Sunday, with the conclusion of this game. The Aztecs lead the Rainbow Warriors by one game and can clinch the division. Hawaii tie SDSU and win the tiebreaker—unless Nevada also wins its final two games and creates a three-way tie. In terms of potential chaos, the Mountain West is pretty much your 2019 industry leader.

Dash pick: Hawaii 23, San Diego State 20.

In other potential chaos scenarios:

There is a slim chance for a three-way tie at 6-3 in the Pac-12 South (28), between Utah, USC and UCLA. That would require a pretty dominant Utes team to lose its last two games, to Arizona and Colorado teams that are a combined 8-12, so don’t count on it. It also would require the Bruins beating USC this weekend and California the next. Chances are, Utah strolls to its second straight division crown.

We could have a four-way tie at 5-3 in the constantly comical ACC Coastal (29), between Virginia, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and Miami. It actually wouldn’t require anything truly silly to happen: Cavaliers lose to the Hokies, who also lose to Pitt, which also loses to Boston College (perhaps the biggest stretch), with Miami beating Duke. Then they play rock-paper-scissors at the league office in Greensboro to decide who loses to Clemson by five touchdowns in the title game.

And dare to dream, MACtion fans: we could still have a five-way tie in the Mid-American Conference East (30). If Toledo, Ball State and Northern Illinois all win their last two games, and current league leaders Central Michigan and Western Michigan lose their last game, everyone is 5-3 and the world explodes. Only Eastern Michigan, at 2-4, is out of the race. Winner plays Miami.

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