Forde-Yard Dash: Championship Weekend Primer and Predictions

The Dash gives a brief breakdown and prediction of all 10 FBS conference title games.
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("Football Fever for Beginners" handbooks sold separately in Charlottesville, where the home team finally won a division):

MORE DASH: SEC Coaching Carousel | Playoff Decisions | Chris Petersen’s Surprise


We’ve reached the end of the road, unfortunately. After this week comes bowl season and playoff season and then the saddest of all seasons—the offseason. But at least there are some high-powered matchups and big stakes this week before the dust settles and we move on to Selection Sunday. A brief Dash breakdown of all 10 FBS title games:

SEC (31). Who: LSU vs. Georgia. Where: Atlanta. When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. Line: LSU by seven.

What would happen if LSU wins: The Tigers would be 13–0 for the first time since 2011 and state a convincing case for being No. 1 in the final playoff rankings, having defeated all four of their prime SEC competitors—Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Georgia—plus Texas on the road. Georgia likely would be ticketed for the Sugar or Orange bowls.

What would happen if Georgia wins: Chaos and controversy, for sure. That outcome would very likely send both the Bulldogs and LSU to the playoff, to the howls of dismay from the rest of the country. Best guess: Ohio State is the top seed, followed by Clemson, Georgia and LSU.

Who will win: LSU. This is a great matchup of strengths: The Tigers’ offense, averaging 48.7 points per game; against the Bulldogs defense, allowing 10.4 per game. Both units rank second nationally. But the weak link here is a Georgia’s No. 40-ranked scoring offense, a faltering unit that will be further inhibited by the absence of receivers Lawrence Cager (full game due to injury) and George Pickens (half game due to suspension for fight in Georgia Tech game). The LSU defense isn’t great (No. 31 nationally in points allowed), but the Tigers played better on that side of the ball against Texas A&M Saturday. Hard to see Georgia being able to match points with Joe Burrow & Co.

Dash pick: LSU 31, Georgia 21.

Big Ten (32). Who: Wisconsin vs. Ohio State. Where: Indianapolis. When: 8 p.m. on Saturday. Line: Ohio State by 16 1/2.

What would happen if Ohio State wins: The Buckeyes would be 13–0 for the first time since the 2002 national title team. They would have their own strong claim to the No. 1 playoff seed, having defeated the Badgers twice, Penn State and Michigan. Wisconsin likely would be ticketed for a sunny Florida bowl game.

What would happen if Wisconsin wins: That would certainly be interesting. Ohio State would still seem highly probable to make the playoff. Then it would be a question of comparing the two-loss Badgers to potential one-loss Big 12 and Pac-12 champions. Wisconsin would have a lot of good wins (Ohio State on a neutral field, Michigan, at Minnesota, Iowa). But a two-loss team hasn’t yet made the playoff—which means that one-point loss to Illinois could be one to regret for years. If the Badgers win the game but don’t make the playoff they would be ticketed to the Rose Bowl.

Who will win: The same team that won big when they met in October—Ohio State. That was one of the few games the Buckeyes didn’t have in the bag by halftime, with the playing field in part leveled by a steady rain. (That won’t happen this time around, with the game played indoors.) Ohio State scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to make it rout, with Chase Young having one of the most dominant defensive performances in recent years. Wisconsin couldn’t get Jonathan Taylor going in the first meeting, and if they can’t control the game with his running then the Badgers are in trouble.

Dash pick: Ohio State 41, Wisconsin 15.

Big 12 (33). Who: Baylor vs. Oklahoma. Where: Arlington, Texas. When: Noon on Saturday. Line: Oklahoma by nine.

What would happen if Oklahoma wins: The Sooners would enter into what would probably be a close résumé contest for the fourth playoff spot, provided all other favorites win. Would two victories over 11-win Baylor be enough to carry the day? Oklahoma got the benefit of the selection committee doubt last season and has made three of the five playoff fields, but has yet to win a game. If neither team makes the playoff, Oklahoma would go to the Sugar Bowl and Baylor to the Alamo.

What would happen if Baylor wins: Similar situation—the Bears, as a 12–1 league champion, would be in the thick of the discussion for the fourth playoff spot. The problem is the non-league résumé, which is threadbare. A scenario, if Wisconsin should beat Ohio State or Georgia lose close to LSU while the Bears are 12–1: could Baylor become the first team ever left out in favor of a two-loss team from another conference? After the fate that befell the Bears in 2014, that wouldn’t go over well in Waco. If neither make the playoff, Baylor would go to the Sugar and Oklahoma to the Alamo.

Who will win: Baylor. A 25-point lead got away from the Bears in the first meeting. They aren’t likely to get up that big again, but it says here they do slow down an Oklahoma team that has seen its passing game dwindle in recent games. The Sooners weren’t overwhelming against Oklahoma State on Saturday despite the Cowboys being without starting quarterback Spencer Sanders. This is the big upset of Championship Weekend.

Dash pick: Baylor 30, Oklahoma 28.

Pac-12 (34). Who: Utah vs. Oregon. Where: Santa Clara. When: 8 p.m. on Friday. Line: Utah by 6 1/2.

What would happen if Utah wins: The Utes would have a good playoff résumé, even better if they beat the Ducks handily. They would be in competition with the Big 12 champion and perhaps others for the fourth playoff spot. If Utah doesn’t make the playoff, the consolation prize ain’t bad: the first Rose Bowl in school history. If Utah does make the playoff, Oregon would go to the Rose.

What would happen if Oregon wins: The Pac-12 would almost certainly be out of the playoff, unless mayhem is unleashed elsewhere and the Ducks are absolutely dazzling in victory. Oregon would go to the Rose Bowl and Utah would probably be a disconsolate invitee to the Alamo Bowl.

Who will win: Utah. The Utes are playing like a team on a mission. They’ve won eight straight, seven of them by 18 or more points. They’re a dominant defensive team and sneaky-efficient on offense (their 6.9 yards per play ranks in the top 10 nationally). Oregon can play some defense as well, so this game unfortunately may be only be slightly more exciting than the grim slog of last year’s Pac-12 title game, a 10–3 Washington win over Utah.

Dash pick: Utah 17, Oregon 13.

Atlantic Coast (35). Who: Clemson vs. Virginia. Where: Charlotte. When: 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Line: Clemson by 28 1/2.

What would happen if Clemson wins: The Tigers would storm into the playoff on a 28-game winning streak while breathing fire about a lack of respect, be it real or completely fabricated for motivational purposes. They would be the most talented No. 3 seed in the playoff’s brief history, if both LSU and Ohio State win as well. Virginia would likely head to the Orange Bowl for the first time in school history.

What would happen if Virginia wins: No small amount of chaos. The defending national champions very likely would be out of the playoff, widening the committee’s task from making a tough call for the final spot to the final two spots. (It could be as easy as the Big 12 champ and Utah. Or it could be more complicated, if the Utes lose to Oregon.) That would seemingly put Virginia in the Orange Bowl and Clemson plummeting to the Citrus Bowl or even the Camping World Bowl, where it would be the least motivated team of bowl season.

Who will win: Um, Clemson. Large. The Tigers will game plan to protect Trevor Lawrence against the Virginia pass rush, and limit what Bryce Perkins can do as a runner. And that will be that. We will proceed to Name The Score Time by mid-third quarter.

Dash pick: Clemson 39, Virginia 7.

American (36). Who: Cincinnati at Memphis. When: 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Line: Memphis by 9 1/2.

What would happen if Memphis wins: Nothing in terms of the playoff. At No. 18 in the committee rankings, the one-loss Tigers are hopelessly blockaded from contention. But they would be the favorite to land the Group of Five bid to the Cotton Bowl. As for Cincinnati: projections are literally all over the map, with not many satisfying matchups.

What would happen if Cincinnati wins: The Bearcats (10–2) also would have a chance at the Cotton Bowl with a win, if they stay ahead of Boise State in the rankings. If not, it’s a slippery slope. Memphis could wind up in a literal home game in the Liberty Bowl, or several other locales.

Who will win: Memphis. Can’t go against the Tigers after their performance against the Bearcats last week. It was a competitive game, but Memphis never trailed and had an answer for every Cincinnati rally.

Dash pick: Memphis 28, Cincinnati 21.

Mountain West (37). Who: Hawaii at Boise State. When: 4 p.m. on Saturday. Line: Boise State by 13 1/2.

What would happen if Boise State wins: The Broncos would state their case for the Cotton Bowl and enter into a résumé contest with the AAC champion. If Boise doesn’t make a New Year's Six bowl, it would head to the Las Vegas Bowl and a date with a Pac-12 opponent. Hawaii would almost certainly be ticketed for a home game in the Hawaii Bowl against BYU.

What would happen if Hawaii wins: This would knock the MWC out of contention for the Cotton Bowl, and everything else gets interesting. Mountain West bowl protocol does not guarantee that its champion plays in the Las Vegas Bowl—it merely says the bowl “has the first selection of available teams.” Given the likelihood that Boise still would be ranked higher and would bring many more fans, Vegas would probably still want the Broncos. Hawaii would probably stay at home and play BYU.

Who will win: Boise State. No betting against the Broncos at this juncture, having beaten the Rainbow Warriors by 22 on the blue turf earlier this season. Boise has endured a lot of injuries but still won five in a row, and this will make it six.

Dash pick: Boise State 38. Hawaii 24.

Conference USA (38). Who: UAB at Florida Atlantic. When: 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Line: FAU by 7 1/2.

What would happen if FAU wins: The Owls may want a shot at a Power 5 opponent in a bowl, and that would come against a Big 12 team in the First Responders Bowl in Dallas. Or they could stay closer to home and play in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa Bay. The Blazers could be ticketed for the New Orleans Bowl.

What would happen in UAB wins: The Blazers might want that game against the Big 12 opponent, and the Owls could wind up in Tampa or New Orleans.

Who will win: UAB. Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin has his name in the hopper for several jobs, which means he’s paying about as much attention to this game as he did to Alabama’s offense before the 2016 College Football Playoff semifinals—Nick Saban told him to take a hike instead of coaching in the playoff final. Focused Blazers spring the upset.

Dash pick: UAB 32, FAU 31.

Mid-American (39). Who: Miami (Ohio) vs. Central Michigan. When: Noon on Saturday. Where: Detroit. Line: Central Michigan by seven.

What happens if Central Michigan or Miami wins: With the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit off the table, the league doesn’t have an ironclad pecking order, so the Chippewas and RedHawks both could end up in several different locations. Just for fun, let’s project Central Michigan to the Camellia Bowl and Miami to the LendingTree Bowl.

Who will win: Central Michigan. The Chippewas have won six of their last seven, five of them convincingly. They’re the hotter team from the tougher division of the league.

Dash pick: Central Michigan 42, Miami (Ohio) 28.

Sun Belt (40). Who: Louisiana at Appalachian State. When: Noon on Saturday. Line: App State by 6 1/2.

What happens if Appalachian State wins: Almost certainly not enough for the 11–1 Mountaineers to vault high enough from No. 25 in the CFP rankings into the Cotton Bowl as the top Group of Five team—the AAC winner will be the blockade there. That would ticket App State for the New Orleans Bowl, with Louisiana probably headed to another Southern bowl with Sun Belt tie-ins.

What happens if Louisiana wins: No shot at the Cotton. Louisiana heads to the nearby New Orleans Bowl and App State goes elsewhere.

Who will win: App State. Just because it’s the Sun Belt doesn’t mean that this isn’t a good game—the two teams are a combined 21–3 and dominated the league, and both head coaches now have their names in the rumor mill for bigger jobs. They met earlier this season in Lafayette and the Mountaineers came away with a 17–7 triumph. Expect more points this time around.

Dash pick: Appalachian State 28, Louisiana 21.

MORE DASH: SEC Coaching Carousel | Playoff Decisions | Chris Petersen’s Surprise