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The Week That Will Be: Championship Saturday

The Horns make their triumphant return to Championship Saturday...can they pull off the unthinkable?

Oklahoma v Texas Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Last Week: 1-5- ATS 2-4 SU

For the Year: 33-41-3 (.446) (-$1,160) ATS 55-21 (.724) SU

We learned last week…

  • Washington once again proved their dominance in winning the Apple Cup, their sixth in a row in the series. Myles Gaskin ran for 170 yards and three touchdowns in the snow while Gardner Minshew was held to only 152 yards on 35 attempts. Washington might now be going to the Rose Bowl, while Washington State might now be relegated to the Alamo Bowl. Brutal.

  • It only took 7 overtimes and 23 years, but Texas A&M has another win over LSU.

  • Auburn only trailed 17-14 at halftime, but was outscored 35-7 in the second half as Tua Tagovailoa accounted for 6 touchdowns. Auburn was so shook by this season that they’re now making up Bob Stoops rumors to try to scare Gus Malzahn into reducing his buyout.

  • It took Michigan about half a quarter to destroy all the good will they had built since week two of the season. The 62 points by Ohio State was the most that Michigan has ever given up in a regulation game, and Dwayne Haskins’s six touchdown passes were the most the Wolverines had ever given up as well. Just brainstorming here, but on the next trip to Columbus the Wolverines can bring out the 2000 team to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the last time they won in Columbus.

  • Oklahoma gave up 8 yards per play against West Virginia but was good enough to get 10 yards a play themselves. The Sooner defense had forced just one fumble all season going into Saturday night but forced two fumbles from Will Grier, returning them both for a touchdown which proved to be more than the difference. Grier must have been too busy doing the Horns Down all week to learn how to hold on to a football.

  • Texas has now been outscored 122-58 in the fourth quarter…but the Horns just keep winning. I’ll take that trade.

”Train like you’re the underdog and play like you’re the champ.” – Tom Herman

What a great quote uttered by Herman this week in his weekly press conference, and if you have seen his team throughout the years perform as an underdog, you know it is not just coach speak.

The Longhorns have a monumental task ahead of them this Saturday – defeat Oklahoma for a second time in two months when they have only lost 7 times in the last four years.

To do so, Kyler Murray will have to lose his second game in a season – something that has never happened to him as a starting quarterback.

And to do so, Texas will have to get in the way of the national argument about whether Oklahoma or Ohio State deserves a spot in the playoff more. The nation has been enthralled with that talk this week – which suits Texas just fine.

Maybe we’ll win by three touchdowns.

Texas quarterback James Brown certainly played like a champion that day on the turf of the TWA Dome in St. Louis. Nobody expected the Longhorns to come close in the game – evidenced by the Las Vegas betting line of nearly three touchdowns – but they won the game outright due to the physicality and sheer will of the Texas side that day.

And while most expected Texas to win the last time they played for a conference championship in this stadium – it required a Herculean, champion like effort by senior Hunter Lawrence to sneak one in the left goal post from 46-yards away to down the Ndamukong Suh-led Nebraska Cornhuskers.

So go ahead and let the media pencil Oklahoma into the college football playoff. Go ahead and let the media pencil in Kyler Murray to win what would be the Sooners’ second Heisman Trophy in as many years. Pencil in Lincoln Riley as Big 12 Coach of the Year.

As former Longhorn head coach John Mackovic said the day after the James Brown game:

“That’s why they make pencils with erasers.”

We’ve talked all year about how when the Longhorns play their best, they are able to beat anyone. I would assert that the Longhorns have yet to play their best all year. Sure, they have come close. But for a full four quarters we have yet to see that laser focus that turns mere good teams into great teams.

You don’t get many chances to be a champion like this in life. Even when the Longhorns were winning 10 games as a matter of routine, they didn’t win as many championships as their record says they should have. Games like this turn guys like Derek Lewis into lifetime memories due to the stakes that are up for grabs.

Games like this are why you come to Texas.

It is why you get up at 5 AM in June.

Be physical and they’ll fold.

Be humble.

Play like a champion.

Stanford -3 @ Cal

I picked this game a couple of weeks ago, but it was cancelled due to the wildfires in California. The game was rescheduled for this weekend, and I’ll ride with my previous pick.

American Championship: Memphis @ UCF -3.5

Memphis has come as close to anyone to defeating Central Florida during their current 24-game winning streak. Last year’s American Championship game went to double overtime before the Tigers succumbed to the Knights despite racking up 753 yards of offense, and this year the two teams met in mid-October, where Memphis had a 13 point lead in the second half but fell despite 281 rushing yards.

The Tigers currently sit at 19th in the S&P+ rankings (10th in offense) and gained entry into this championship game by winning their last four regular season games, including a 52-31 victory over Houston last week, when they outscored the Cougars 21-0 in the fourth quarter despite not throwing a single pass.

Running back Darrell Henderson is the star of the offense, as his 1,699 rushing yards this year were a conference record (Memphis’s 3,311 rushing yards as a team were also a conference record). He has 19 touchdowns on the year, while his backup Patrick Taylor Jr. has 14 touchdowns.

This would be a tough game with star quarterback McKenzie Milton, however Central Florida lost him for the season last week with a gruesome knee injury. The Knights are far from a one man team, however, as they actually averaged more rushing yards (270 yards) than passing yards (261) this season.

Memphis is 26-12 in the Mike Norvell tenure, but this would be the biggest win of them all. You should always ride a streak, but Memphis seems primed to end Central Florida’s here.

Memphis 41 Central Florida 34

ATS – Memphis

SU – Memphis

Pac-12 Championship: Utah vs. Washington -5 (Santa Clara, CA)

Washington enters this game fresh off that victory over Washington State last weekend and have won three in a row since a mid-year swoon. Another victory in that streak was against Stanford, so they certainly don’t have a shortage of impressive wins.

Utah sees Washington’s streak and counters with having won 7 of 8 entering this one, but have lost their starting quarterback (Tyler Huntley) and star running back (Zack Moss), both to season-ending injury. Not to worry because those two only accounted for 84% of the Utes offense at the time of their injuries.

Jason Shelley is the new quarterback for the Utes, but only has 96 attempts on the season.

This figures to be a defensive battle, as Washington only allows 16.5 points per game while Utah only allows 18.6. They have already played one game like that earlier this year in September, as the Huskies came away with a 21-7 victory in Salt Lake City.

Myles Gaskin had 143 yards and a touchdown in that matchup – he’ll figure to be the guy to watch in this one, too.

Washington 24 Utah 13

ATS – Washington

SU – Washington

ACC Championship: Clemson -27.5 vs. Pittsburgh (Charlotte, NC)

Do we really even have to play this one?

Clemson is 12-0 and hasn’t had a game in single digit margin of victory since September, while Pittsburgh enters this one at 7-5 and comes off a 24-3 thrashing at the hands of Miami just last week. The Panthers have already faced top-notch competition this year, as they have played Central Florida (Lost 45-14) and Notre Dame (Lost 19-14) and actually had won four in a row prior to that Miami loss as the offense led by Shawn Watson put up 50 points in two of those wins.

You might remember that Pitt actually went on the road and defeated Clemson in 2016, but there is little reason to think that they can replicate that here. Still, 27.5 is a tough number to overcome this time of year, and Clemson is 1-5 as a favorite of 21 points or more this year.

Clemson 38 Pittsburgh 17

ATS – Pittsburgh

SU – Clemson

Big 10 Championship: Ohio State -14 vs. Northwestern (Indianapolis, IN)

So Northwestern hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 2004, and before that it was 1971 the last time that the Wildcats came out on top in this matchup.

Add that brutal history to the fact that Northwestern enters this one at 8-4 with losses to Duke and Akron and currently rank 78th in the S&P+ rankings, and you really have to marvel at how bad the rest of the division was that they made it to Indianapolis.

Still, they’re here, and that is mostly due to a defense that ranked 27th in the S+P+ rankings, holding Michigan and Notre Dame to below their season averages in defeat by a combined margin of 13 points.

Ohio State has a habit of sleeping through games, and this isn’t Michigan, but I don’t see any way they don’t take care of business here in a big way with a possible playoff berth a blowout win away.

Ohio State 41 Northwestern 14

ATS – Ohio State

SU – Ohio State

SEC Championship: Alabama -13.5 vs. Georgia (Atlanta, GA)

These two met at this same stadium 11 months ago for the national championship and had to go to overtime to find a victor, but the Crimson Tide are just a different animal this year, entering this game with a 12-0 record with each game being decided by at least 23 points (hang another banner, Aggies).

That is just remarkable.

The Bulldogs have won five in a row, scoring 208 points in that time. They have the third ranked offense in the S&P+ rankings, so they are by far the best offense that Alabama has faced this year (if you don’t count practices Monday-Friday against their own offense).

Alabama wins. Crazy, I know.

Alabama 31 Georgia 23

ATS – Georgia

SU – Alabama

Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma -7.5 vs. Texas (Arlington, TX)

1923 was the last time that Texas played Oklahoma outside the city limits of Dallas, when the two teams met at Clark Field in Austin, a year before Texas Memorial Stadium was built. That game finished with a 26-14 victory by the Longhorns.

This one will be higher scoring than that.

It will be quite odd to see these two teams line it up at the Death Star in Arlington (don’t call it that hokey name Jerry World), but as silly as the concept of this game is, it is what it is, and if the Longhorns should happen to win, they’re not going to put an asterisk in the record book.

Of course if you listen to the national media, Oklahoma winning this game is a foregone conclusion, because Kyler Murray and all that. The Sooners have won six in a row since that loss at the Cotton Bowl. They averaged a ridiculous 53 points per game in that span – but gave up nearly that, allowing 40 points or more every game in November.

But you know as well as I do that this game doesn’t always come down to the most talented team (as evidenced by Texas entering this one with a 6-0 record against the spread the last six years in this rivalry despite, well, you’ve watched this team for the last six years).

And, of course, there is the fact that Tom Herman is 12-1 with nine outright wins as an underdog as a head coach.

With two of those victories against Oklahoma (and Lincoln Riley).

The Sooners have won five Big 12 titles since Texas won their last, but to get to six they will need to contain Sam Ehlinger, who in his two starts against Oklahoma has produced the two highest offensive outputs for a Texas quarterback in the 100+ year history of the rivalry.

And what does Texas need to do? Simple, they need to play more the first three quarters from October and a lot less like the last quarter. Kyler Murray is a great one, but he also has shown a propensity to panic when he’s actually under duress….and there is no doubt that Texas is in his head…just a little bit.

It is awfully tough to beat a team twice in a season, and it is especially tough when that team has a historic offense that you will need to stop for a second time.

But this is my column, dammit, and I’m sure as hell not picking the Sooners to win in a game of this magnitude.

Take another L, Sooners.

Texas 44 Oklahoma 38

ATS – Texas

SU – Texas

For entertainment purposes only. Save your money for a little trip to New Orleans.