Week 14 of the college football season means conference championship games. And per usual, the crowning of conference champs this Friday and Saturday will go a long way towards deciding the four teams which will compete for the National Championship.
The long-awaited “Selection Sunday” takes place one day after the dust settles, as the College Football Playoff Committee must select the four best teams in the country for postseason berths.
On Tuesday – following a pivotal Saturday of action which saw then third-ranked Michigan (10-2) fall to its bitter rivals, second-ranked Ohio State (11-1) in a 30-27 double-overtime classic – committee members largely hewed close to the vest with their penultimate set of rankings.
Top-ranked Alabama (12-0) remained in the same spot they’ve occupied all year, after finishing off another undefeated regular season under Nick Saban by downing then 16th-ranked Auburn (8-4) in a 30-12 Iron Bowl snoozer.
The aforementioned Buckeyes secured their second-place ranking by beating the Wolverines, who were dropped down to fifth in the Playoff Rankings to find themselves on the outside looking in.
Clemson (11-1) rose to the third slot on the strength of a 56-7 rout over South Carolina (6-6), and Washington (11-1) snuck into the fourth and final postseason position by virtue of a 45-17 rout over Washington State (8-4).
This weekend will decide if that order shifts at all, and after last Saturday’s epic Big Ten clash, the conference’s real championship game may prove to be pivotal. Respectively, Wisconsin (10-2) and Penn State (10-2) sit in the sixth and seventh Playoff positions, and they’ll face one another to crown the Big Ten’s champ.
The Badgers won the West division, while the Nittany Lions used their head-to-head win over the Buckeyes to break an 8-1 conference record logjam in the East, which is why Ohio State is sitting this one out despite holding a better overall record.
Conventional wisdom says Ohio State is a lock for the postseason, but if Penn State can win big here, their previous win over the Buckeyes just might be enough to nudge them past Washington and their weak Pac-12 schedule. The game takes place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and Wisconsin comes in as 2.5-point consensus favorites.
Those Huskies have a championship game of their own to worry about, as Washington battles eighth-ranked Colorado (10-2) at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Washington absolutely must win, and probably with style points to boot, to preserve its current Playoff spot, and even a win might not be enough to sway the Committee away from the Big Ten darlings.
The Buffaloes are rolling, riding a six-game winning streak, but the North division winners have won all five Pac-12 Championship Game matchups thus far, and online sportsbook Bovada likes that streak to continue – with Washington listed as big 8-point favorites.
Clemson squares off against 23rd-ranked Virginia Tech (9-3) in the ACC Championship Game, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, and once again any stumble could doom their postseason hopes. The Tigers alternate between blowouts and nail-biters, so this game could go either way, but Bovada believes motivation matters, with Clemson as big 10.5-point favorites.
Finally, Alabama plays 15th-ranked Florida (8-3) to settle the SEC Championship, held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. But even with a loss, the defending National Champions are considered a lock to make the Playoff. The stakes aren’t high, but the spread is, as Bovada has tabbed the Crimson Tide as massive 24-point favorites.