By Brad Carroll
Finally, we've arrived at Championship Saturday, where five conference title games will be played, along with a full slate of important matchups in the Big 12, all with the ultimate goal of improving their bowl positioning, and some with the hope of making it to the College Football Playoff.
After Saturday's games play out, we'll have to wait less than 24 hours to see who the final four will be. There will be plenty of drama with those selections, but it shouldn't compare to what will happen on fields across the nation all day Saturday, as five teams with national title hopes will be in action.
We preview and our college football experts pick against the spread the SEC championship, ACC championship, Big Ten championship, Conference USA championship and the Mountain West championship, plus three Big 12 regular season games, including Playoff contenders Baylor and TCU in separate matchups. Follow us on Twitter for all of our college football updates and picks against spread.
Big 12 Regular Season
Iowa State at No. 3 TCU, 12 p.m., ABC
The Spread: Iowa State +34; TCU -34
Brad's Breakdown: With TCU's surprising rise to No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, jumping undefeated Florida State in a week where some thought the Horned Frogs would actually fall below Baylor or Ohio State, a spot in the national championship semifinals should be just one win away. Before the rankings were released, it was thought the Horned Frogs would need to rout Iowa State to make the top four, and while that might still be the case, it would be a surprise if they fell out of the title tournament now with a simple victory against Iowa State. The Cyclones are not a good team, hence the gigantic point spread, with just a 2-9 record this season. But Iowa State has a history of ruining national title dreams. Back in 2011, the Cyclones upset Oklahoma State, which resulted in LSU and Alabama playing in rematch for the title that season, instead of a Cowboys-Tigers game. TCU is just way too good of a team to suffer a letdown against Iowa State, however, and with its close call already out of the way in Kansas, the Horned Frogs should pour it on against the Cyclones.
Brad's Score: TCU 63, Iowa State 14
Craig's Score: TCU 63, Iowa State 20
Glenn's Score: TCU 75, Iowa State 24
Matt's Score: TCU 60, Iowa State 10
Big 12 Regular Season
Oklahoma State at No. 20 Oklahoma, 3:30 p.m., FS1
The Spread: Oklahoma State +19.5; Oklahoma -19.5
Brad's Breakdown: Both programs have fallen on hard times this season, each in its own way. Oklahoma had national title hopes and started the season with four straight wins, reaching No. 4 in the AP poll before losing by four to then-No. 25 TCU. The Sooners would lose two more games, to Kansas State and Baylor, and comes into this regular season finale with a disappointing 8-3 record. Oklahoma hasn't beaten a ranked team this season, going 0-3. Oklahoma State is nowhere near ranked, as it has lost five straight games and is 5-6 on season. The Cowboys started strong, with a close loss to Florida State followed by five straight wins, but the season has since unraveled. Two weeks ago, Oklahoma State did play Baylor close throughout before losing by 21. That was good enough to cover the point spread, however. Oklahoma State needs to win to become bowl eligible and has kept this rivalry game close the last two years, ultimately falling late in both. Oklahoma is riding the legs of freshman running back Samaje Perine, who had a NCAA record 427 rushing yards two weeks ago. Oklahoma is just too good to lose this game, but the Cowboys always play tough against the Sooners, and this game should be no different.
Brad's Score: Oklahoma 35, Oklahoma State 24
Craig's Score: Oklahoma 35, Oklahoma State 27
Glenn's Score: Oklahoma 40, Oklahoma State 24
Matt's Score: Oklahoma 42, Oklahoma State 24
Big 12 Regular Season
No. 9 Kansas State at No. 6 Baylor, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Kansas State +7.5; Baylor -7.5
Brad's Breakdown: The biggest storyline in this game is Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has been cleared to play. Petty suffered a concussion last week in a two-point victory over Texas Tech, but the Heisman candidate should be ready to go, which is a season-saver for the Bears. Baylor is alive in the College Football Playoff chase, but likely needs to not only beat Kansas State, but win in a blowout. If everyone ahead of it wins Saturday, the Bears would have to jump two teams to get into the top four, TCU and Ohio State. The only way to do that is to win impressively in this regular season game that also plays as a conference championship, as the winner will gain at least a share of the title. The Bears beat TCU earlier this season, but their loss to West Virginia has hurt them in the eyes of the committee. Petty's return is huge, as Baylor's offense is on a completely different level with him running the show. His backup, Seth Russell, went just 8-for-17 for 82 yards and a touchdown in relief last week. Kansas State is no pushover, however, with a No. 9 ranking and 9-2 record. The Wildcats' only two losses have to been to then-No. 5 Auburn and then-No. 6 TCU. Kansas State's defense will pose a challenge to Baylor, as it ranks 17th in the nation allowing 20.3 points per game. Baylor will win the game, but Kansas State isn't going to get run over.
Brad's Score: Baylor 35, Kansas State 28
Craig's Score: Baylor 42, Kansas State 30
Glenn's Score: Baylor 56, Kansas State 45
Matt's Score: Baylor 48, Kansas State 30
Conference USA Championship
Louisiana Tech at Marshall, 12 p.m., ESPN2
The Spread: Louisiana Tech +12.5; Marshall -12.5
Brad's Breakdown: Marshall worked the entire season, winning its first 11 games, to finally get ranked by the college football playoff committee, coming in at No. 24 last week. But the ranking lasted just one week, as Western Kentucky upset the Thundering Herd after its debut in the rankings, 67-66 in overtime. The loss was a heartbreaker for Marshall, as it all but ruined its opportunity to play in a major bowl. The Conference USA championship is still there for the taking, however, as Marshall and Louisiana Tech meet for the first time this season. Louisiana Tech has won six of its last seven games after starting the season with three losses in its first five. The Bulldogs lost to then-No. 5 Auburn 45-17 in their biggest game and defeated Western Kentucky 59-10 on November 1. They have the 12th best scoring offense in the country, averaging 38.8 points per game. Marshall is second in scoring offense, with an average of 46.7 points per game. The Herd's defense is very good as well, despite what happened last week, allowing 20.7 points per game. If Marshall can bounce back from its first loss, this should turn into an easy win. Playing at home helps.
Brad's Score: Marshall 52, Louisiana Tech 34
Craig's Score: Marshall 48, Louisiana Tech 31
Glenn's Score: Marshall 56, Louisiana Tech 35
Matt's Score: Louisiana Tech 51, Marshall 48
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Missouri at Atlanta, 4 p.m., CBS
The Spread: Alabama -14.5; Missouri +14.5
Brad's Breakdown: Believe it or not, there is a way for the SEC not to have a team in the College Football Playoff. If Alabama loses this game to Missouri, which would be considered a bad loss even though the Tigers are in the conference championship game, the Crimson Tide likely would drop out of the top four. Or, at least it should drop out of the top four. It would be hard to argue in favor of the Crimson Tide making the final four, especially if all the teams still in contention win. But Alabama can squash all that by doing what its supposed to do Saturday afternoon, and that's beat Missouri handily. The Tide have been vulnerable this season, even though they are No. 1 in the nation and have lost just once, to Ole Miss. Alabama has close wins over West Virginia, Arkansas, LSU (in overtime) and Mississippi State. Missouri is 10-2 but even with a victory here wouldn't have enough support to jump into the top four. The Tigers have won six straight games, so they are on a roll. But it's tough to ignore their two losses, to Indiana and a 34-0 defeat to Georgia, which was the best team the Tigers faced this season. Missouri has a great defensive front, and that will make it hard for the Tide to run the ball. But Alabama has found a passing game this season, with Blake Sims and Amari Cooper leading the way. It's hard to go against Alabama coach Nick Saban, who is 8-1 in championship games, either conference or national. He'll be 9-1 come Saturday night.
Brad's Score: Alabama 38, Missouri 17
Craig's Score: Alabama 38, Missouri 24
Glenn's Score: Alabama 27, Missouri 24
Matt's Score: Alabama 42, Missouri 20
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech at Charlotte, 8 p.m., ABC
The Spread: Florida State -4; Georgia Tech +4
Brad's Breakdown: Florida State has lived on the edge all season long, so it's only appropriate the team is on the edge of the College Football Playoff rankings, coming in at No. 4 despite being the only undefeated team in the nation. The ranking might be unfair, but the Seminoles have struggled in seemingly every game this season, including the last three, against Miami, Boston College and Florida, winning by a total of just 12 points. If the Seminoles win this game against a red-hot Georgia Tech team, no matter the score, they should be in the Playoff. Of course, this playoff committee hasn't exactly made completely sane decisions so far. Georgia Tech has won five games in a row, including the last two against then-No. 19 Clemson and then-No. 9 Georgia in overtime last week. The Yellowjackets are fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game, averaging over 333, and score 37.2 points per game, 16th in the nation. They also force turnovers on defense, creating 17 turnovers over the past five games. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has been a turnover machine this year, throwing 17 interception. While all signs point to another close game, Florida State should actually flip the script heading into the Playoff, beating the Jackets by two touchdowns.
Brad's Score: Florida State 35, Georgia Tech 21
Craig's Score: Florida State 27, Georgia Tech 20
Glenn's Score: Georgia Tech 38, Florida State 35 (OT) (upset pick)
Matt's Score: Florida State 28, Georgia Tech 17
Big Ten Championship
No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 13 Wisconsin at Indianapolis, 8:17 p.m., FOX
The Spread: Ohio State +4.5; Wisconsin -4.5
Brad's Breakdown: This should be an old-school, ground and pound matchup that used to typify the Big Ten's biggest games. Wisconsin is all about running the ball and defense, led by star running back and Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon. Ohio State, on the other hand, opened up the offense this year once quarterback J.T. Barrett came into his own after taking over for the injured Braxton Miller, averaging 44.1 points per game. But that explosive offense took a major hit last week when Barrett went down with a broken ankle in a win over Michigan. Barrett is out for the season, which put in serious doubt the Buckeyes' chances of winning the Big Ten title Saturday night and making the College Football Playoff tournament. Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones now has the big task of taking over the offense at quarterback in a conference championship game. It could grind to a halt what Ohio State has done on offense this entire season. Wisconsin's the favorite, but has no shot to make the Playoff. Ohio State needs a win here and then hope to jump two teams, likely TCU and Baylor, to make the final four. There is a chance the Buckeyes could win one of the biggest conferences in college football and not get one of the four spots, proving a four-team tournament isn't the perfect solution. Ohio State will find a way to make the committee think long and hard about its candidacy.
Brad's Score: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 24 (upset pick)
Craig's Score: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 17
Glenn's Score: Wisconsin 27, Ohio State 17
Matt's Score: Wisconsin 38, Ohio State 31
Mountain West Championship
Fresno State at Boise State, 10 p.m., CBS
The Spread: Fresno State +21.5; Boise State -21.5
Brad's Breakdown: Boise State isn't playing for a spot in the College Football Playoff, but a win here not only gets it a conference title, but a spot in a New Year's Six bowl, as the highest ranked team from outside the power conferences. The Broncos will have to go through Fresno State for a second time this season to get there. Boise State won the first meeting 37-27 at home. The Broncos scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win. Boise State has won seven straight games, scoring less than 50 points just twice over that span. Running back Jay Ajayi leads the offense with 1,619 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. He ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting between the two schools. Fresno State is 6-6 overall but has won three straight games, against San Jose State, Nevada and Hawaii. The Bulldogs can't play defense, though, allowing 33 points per game. Boise State rolls to victory, but Fresno State will keep it close enough once again.
Brad's Score: Boise State 42, Fresno State 21
Craig's Score: Boise State 49, Fresno State 24
Glenn's Score: Fresno State 35, Boise State 20 (upset pick)
Matt's Score: Boise State 56, Fresno State 17
Brad Last Week: 7-13 (spread), 11-9 (straight-up), 1-4 (upset picks)
Brad Season: 83-92-1 (spread), 126-50 (straight-up), 11-12 (upsets)
Craig Last Week: 9-11 (spread), 15-5 (straight-up), 1-1 (upset picks)
Craig Season: 80-95-1 (spread), 123-53 (straight-up), 9-12 (upsets)
Glenn Last Week: 9-11 (spread), 12-8 (straight-up), 1-4 (upset picks)
Glenn Season: 95-80-1 (spread), 124-52 (straight-up), 13-17 (upsets)
Matt Last Week: 9-11 (spread), 13-7 (straight-up), 0-2 (upset picks)
Matt Season: 85-90-1 (spread), 127-49 (straight-up), 9-10 (upsets)