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The Week That Will Be: Championship Saturday

The Horns are done, but the games go on.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

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

For the Year: 40-37-1 (.519) (-$110) ATS 52-26 (.667) SU

Chalk (LSU +6.5 vs. Texas A&M):

LSU won this game on a 28-yard dime from Max Johnson to Jaray Jenkins with twenty seconds left, but they outgained the Aggies 412-296 and held Texas A&M to 54 rushing yards on 28 attempts, a paltry 1.9 yards per carry. The Aggies were on cloud nine this time last year thinking they had a shot at the playoff, this year they have four losses and just lost to a coach that is in Destin drinking from one of those punch bowls with twenty straws in it right about now.

Bad Beat (Ohio State -8.5 @ Michigan):

I picked Ohio State to cover in this column last week but picked Michigan in my pick ‘em, so I guess I like to cover all bases. What a performance by the Wolverines on Saturday in what I think might have been the most enjoyable game of the 2021 season thus far.

The star of the show was Michigan defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson, who had an incredible 15 quarterback pressures (as tracked by Pro Football Focus). Incredibly only 3% of Michigan plays were negative and they only had two penalties. It helps tremendously when you aren’t playing behind the chains all day.

The loss was Ryan Day’s first conference loss as head coach of Ohio State, and Michigan’s first top-5 win since 2006 (Notre Dame) and the first home win of that ilk since 2003 (also Ohio State).

Let’s do a little scattershooting this week while wondering whatever happened to Marty Cherry…

Say what you want about 5-7 not being any different from 4-8, but it nothing else the optics of taking a 7-game losing streak into the off-season would have been awful, so thank whatever deity you worship for that win last Friday in Austin.

I’m not sure any of us expected a defensive effort like that, especially after a rough start, but Kansas State had just over 100 yards of offense in the second half (and didn’t score after the half). Texas also held Kansas State to 1-of-11 on third and fourth downs, including two huge stops in the fourth quarter.

It was a terrible year that we will all hope to forget, but the team showed up didn’t just go through the motions (well, most didn’t) and got that particular monkey off their badk headed into the off-season. Kudos to them.

Doesn’t that game feel like it was about three weeks ago? My gosh what a weekend in college football, from epic snow games to epic upsets to almost epic upsets that are still funny because the team that choked isn’t very well liked, either, and then to the events coming out of Norman and South Bend in the past few days.

Lincoln Riley snuck out of town like he is some sort of nerdy Batman and then leaves secret agents behind to recruit for USC while they are still in Oklahoma. Brian Kelly says playoff be damned, c’mon boys, we’re going to Baton Rouge! Only to look behind him and find nobody actually trailing him. Of course Marcus Freeman (Kellly’s defensive coordinator) and Tommy Rees (offensive coordinator) decided to stay in South Bend, while Kelly must now hire a new staff once again.

As of press time Oklahoma had yet to name a replacement, but we did have the silly exercise today of Matt Rhule’s name being hoisted onto a golden pillow and put on display by Oklahoma saying “look everyone, we can take a NFL head coach away” but that story turned out to be a house of cards.

No, it will likely be Brent Venables that gets the job, and Texas fans should be more than willing to take their chances with a first-time head coach after 20+ years of being a coordinator. And one that was run out of town not that long ago at that.

Venables might turn out to be a good coach, and perhaps he finds an offensive coordinator that has some success, but Lincoln Riley went 55-10 in five seasons in Norman, winning 4 Big 12 titles and going to the CFP three times. He was there five years and his quarterback finished first or second in the Heisman voting three of those years.

It is the end of an era in Oklahoma, and one that Texas should be rejoiceful about.

And finally, we sit here entering the final weekend before bowl season with a good chance of having a playoff that doesn’t include Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson and Alabama, who have made a combined 20 appearances in the CFP, out of a possible 28 appearances. Incredible.

And now watch these be the lowest rated semi-finals and finals ever.

I think everyone agrees Georgia is in win or lose. Michigan is in with a win. Cincinnati is probably in with a win. Baylor and TCU say hi. Alabama is in with a win. Oklahoma State is in if they win and Alabama loses. And Notre Dame likely needs a Georgia, Houston and Baylor win (wouldn’t that be the funniest national title ever?)

I suppose I am happy for the Bearcats for getting their shot, but mostly I’m just happy that we can stop talking about it all the time now.

And yes, for the 8th year in a row, Texas enters this weekend with zero chance of the playoff.

Perhaps one day.

If we ever win a recruiting battle again.

AAC Championship: Houston vs. Cincinnati -10.5:

What a great matchup this is – Houston hasn’t lost since September 4th, and Cincinnati hasn’t lost since January 1st. Both teams feature tough defenses (Cincinnati is 10th in the country in SP+ defense, Houston is 15th), and while Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder gets all the hype, they have similar statistics, at least when it comes to throwing the football.

Ridder has thrown for an even 3,000 yards with 27 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions, while Houston’s Clayton Tune has thrown for 3,013 with 26 touchdowns and…8 interceptions as well.

Tune has thrown only 4 of those interceptions during this win streak (he had 4 in the season opening loss to Texas Tech) but has especially turned it on since the Halloween weekend game against SMU. He has three games in that span with at least 300 yards passing and has thrown 16 touchdowns in five games.

Of course that is nothing new for Desmond Ridder, who will surpass the 10,000 yard mark for his career in this game. He’s also rushed for more than 2,100 yards and has 28 touchdowns on the ground.

I expect Houston to stay in it for a while, but the Bearcats are just on a different level.

Cincinnati 28 Houston 21

Pac-12 Championship: Utah -3 vs. Oregon:

These two teams met just two weeks ago in Salt Lake City in a game that did not go well at all for the Ducks – they lost 38-7 and were eliminated from the playoff conversation. The Utes rushed for 208 yards to Oregon’s 63 in that one – that will have to completely change for the Ducks to reverse their fortune in this one.

Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown was awful in that matchup. He completed less than 50% of his passes at only a 6.6 yards per attempt clip, but he had what might have been the best game of his career last week against Oregon State, throwing for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns while adding 83 yards and a score on the ground.

I expect the Ducks to have a much better showing than they did a couple of weeks ago, but Utah’s defense is just better. The Utes have won 8 of 9 games, they’re on a hot one.

The winner of this game goes to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl, the loser goes to…San Antonio. Sorry, Ducks.

Utah 31 Oregon 27

ACC Championship: Wake Forest vs. Pittsburgh -3:

Raise your hand if you had this as the ACC Championship before the season started. These programs have met exactly once on the gridiron – a 34-13 Pitt win back in 2018.

These two programs like to score, as evidenced by the 72.5 O/U set by Vegas. It is with good reason as Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett is good enough to have broken Dan Marino’s record for most touchdowns at Pitt with his 40th touchdown pass last weekend. He’s thrown for at least two touchdowns in every game this year.

Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman has his own touchdown streak, as he has thrown a touchdown pass in 15 straight games. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in 6 of his last 8 ball games.

Pitt has never won an outright conference championship and Wake Forest hasn’t won one since 2006. This conference has been dominated by Clemson of late, of course. This will be the first time since 2014 that Clemson will not wear that crown.

Pitt 44 Wake Forest 38

Big Ten Championship: Michigan -10.5 vs. Iowa:

Well now we get to see what Michigan looks like as a front-runner.

Both of these teams ended their regular season with four straight wins coming off devastating losses (or in Iowa’s case, two losses). Michigan is vying for their first Big 10 title in 17 years while Iowa looks for their first since….2004. They tied, but of course it was Michigan that went on to the Rose Bowl to face Vince Young and Texas. If you want an outright title, you have to go back all the way to 1985 for the Hawkeyes.

Despite those four straight wins, you get the feeling that these are two programs headed in opposite directions. The Wolverines took down big bad Ohio State last week and Hassan Hawkins had the most rushing touchdowns ever against the Buckeyes (5).

Meanwhile, Iowa was a slight underdog to 3-8 Nebraska last week and needed some helpful bounces to get the 7-point victory. Their other two wins were over Northwestern and Illinois in very lackluster, 10 points or less wins.

Iowa’s defense will keep them in it, but Michigan wins and heads to the playoff.

Michigan 23 Iowa 16

SEC Championship: Georgia -6.5 vs. Alabama:

Clemson. UAB. South Carolina. @ Vanderbilt. Arkansas. @ Auburn. Kentucky. Florida. Missouri. @ Tennessee. Charleston Southern. @ Georgia Tech.

There has been a ton of talk this year about the performance of the Georgia Bulldogs this season, and with good reason. Their defense has given up 69 points in 12 games. Their offense scores 40.7 points per game with what many would deem a bus driver at quarterback and not much of a running game to speak of.

But look at that schedule – hell Texas probably wins 7 or 8 with that schedule.

And now they head on down to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face 11-1 Alabama. Now this isn’t the Alabama we are used to, but they still won 11 games and they still have the best quarterback in the country.

And then consider that Georgia hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2007 – Nick Saban’s first year at Alabama. Georgia was very good last year, too and they still went to Tuscaloosa and lost by three scores, 41-24.

Bryce Young is very good, but Alabama will have to be better at protecting him than they were against Auburn last week. The Tigers were able to get pressure with 4 or maybe 5 pass rushers, and the Bulldogs will be able to match that or even rush less.

But something tells me that Nick Saban gets very surly when he is told his team has no chance.

Alabama 24 Georgia 20

Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma State -5.5 vs. Baylor:

Who knew that Mike Gundy running his record to 3-14 against Oklahoma would cause the implosion of OU football? Well done, Mike.

But that win doesn’t mean much if the Cowboys don’t follow it up this weekend with a win in what would be their first Big 12 title game win.

These teams met in Stillwater earlier this season, with Oklahoma State’s defense holding the Bears to 280 total yards, 3-of-15 on third down and holding Gerry Bohanon to less than 50% passing. The victory was so dominant that Spencer Sanders threw three interceptions in that game and the Cowboys still won by 10.

Will Jeff Grimes be able to solve that Oklahoma State defensive riddle? Because to me that feels like the key to this game. OSU almost got over their skis last weekend against Oklahoma when that game threatened to turn into a shoot-out. They aren’t made for that.

Oklahoma State 23 Baylor 21

For entertainment purposes only. Save your money for the Clark Field Collective.

Thank you again to all of you for taking the time to read and interact each and every week. I don’t know how often the ideas will hit me in the off-season, but I created a page to share some thoughts outside of this forum. Until next season. Hook ‘em.