By Brad Carroll
The College Football Playoff picture has come into full focus as we enter Championship Saturday. If Clemson, Alabama and Iowa win their respective championship games, they all will join Oklahoma in the final four. There is no debate about that.
Even the first team out of the top four right now will have a chance to play their way in, as if Michigan State beats Iowa in the Big Ten championship game, the Spartans will take the Hawkeyes place in the final bracket. That, again, is simple.
Where things get tricky is if Clemson loses to North Carolina and/or Alabama loses to Florida. If either of those results happen, there will be one heck of an argument for who should move into the final four. If North Carolina beats Clemson, it should jump into the top four, as it would have just one loss on the season. But more likely, either Ohio State or Stanford, if it wins the Pac-12 championship game, will move up. If Florida beats Alabama, the SEC should have no representative in the Playoff, as the Gators have no right to play for college football's biggest prize.
If both North Carolina and Florida win, the Tar Heels, Buckeyes and Cardinal would all fight for the final two spots.
What does it all equal? One heck of a Saturday, that's what. Below we analyze, preview and our four college football experts pick the five conference championship games, along with a Big 12 regular season matchup, against the point spread. Follow us on Twitter here.
Texas at No. 12 Baylor, 12 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Texas +20.5; Baylor -20.5
Analysis: Baylor watched its slim College Football Playoff hopes end last week with a 28-21 loss to TCU. That dropped the Bears to 9-2 on the season and right out of the Playoff picture. Baylor has lost two of its past three games, including a home loss to Oklahoma, which should be the Big 12's representative in the Playoff, and a victory over previously-undefeated Oklahoma State. If Baylor can beat Texas Saturday afternoon, it would give the Longhorns their second most losses in school history. Texas is 4-7, having lost three of its last four after putting together a two-game win streak. The Longhorns have a win over Oklahoma on their resume, but everything else has been huge disappointment. Texas was shut out, 24-0, by Iowa State a month ago in perhaps the biggest embarrassment in a long line of them for coach Charlie Strong. This game won't be embarrassing in that light, but Baylor will still win big at home.
Brad's Score: Baylor 42, Texas 20
Craig's Score: Baylor 42, Texas 20
Glenn's Score: Baylor 48, Texas 20
Matt's Score: Baylor 35, Texas 17
No. 22 Temple at No. 19 Houston, 12 p.m., ABC
The Spread: Temple +6.5; Houston -6.5
Analysis: Temple and Houston might not be playing for a spot in the College Football Playoff, but the stakes are huge for this AAC championship game. The winner will likely make a New Year's Six bowl game, which is obviously one of the season's marquee games, not to mention the huge paycheck that comes along with it. So, there is tons on the line in Houston. Temple started the season 7-0 before a 24-20 loss to Notre Dame knocked it from the unbeatens. The Owls responded with a win over SMU but then followed with a bad loss to South Florida, before finishing with wins over No. 21 Memphis and UConn. Houston is 11-1 on the season with the lone loss coming against UConn, when star quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was limited by injury, only throwing four passes in the game. The Cougars bounced back with a big win over then-No. 15 Navy, 52-31, where Ward Jr. threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. Ward Jr. is also a huge threat to run the ball as well and should put on a show against the Owls.
Brad's Score: Houston 38, Temple 28
Craig's Score: Houston 35, Temple 27
Glenn's Score: Houston 35, Temple 23
Matt's Score: Temple 24, Houston 21 (upset pick)
No. 18 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama, Atlanta, 4 p.m., CBS
The Spread: Florida +18; Alabama -18
Analysis: This might be the biggest mismatch in SEC championship game history, as the Crimson Tide are headed for a spot in the national championship tournament, while the Gators are headed for a severe beating, as they could manage just two points - two! - in a loss to Florida State last week. For such a big game and stage, there is really nothing to break down here. Alabama is going to win the game, with the only question being if Florida will actually get shut out or not. Alabama will have plenty on offense to put up points, with running back Derrick Henry making another statement in a chase for the Heisman trophy. The defense should have more than enough to completely shut down the pathetic Gators offense. Alabama will join Oklahoma in the final four.
Brad's Score: Alabama 34, Florida 0
Craig's Score: Alabama 31, Florida 14
Glenn's Score: Alabama 35, Florida 20
Matt's Score: Alabama 35, Florida 3
No. 20 Southern Cal vs. No. 7 Stanford, Santa Clara, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Southern Cal +5; Stanford -5
Analysis: Stanford still has a shot to make the College Football Playoff, but would need either Clemson to lose to North Carolina or Alabama lose to Florida. If one of those happened, the Cardinal would have a great case to make the Playoff. However, even if one of those scenarios did happen, Stanford would still be in a battle with Ohio State on paper for the Playoff committee to decide which should make the final four. On one hand, Stanford would have a conference title. On the other, Ohio State would have one less loss than Stanford and an impressive win over Michigan last week. It could be a toss up where both programs and fan bases could be ready to celebrate or riot. It's not likely Southern Cal makes it all the way up to the final four if it wins this game, despite what would be a major conference title. The Buckeyes are obviously rooting for North Carolina, Florida and Southern Cal while they watch from home. Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey could be the best player on the field, but as usual, the Cardinal success goes through quarterback Kevin Hogan. USC beat UCLA last week, but lost by 20 to Oregon the week before. This game should go more like the latter.
Brad's Score: Stanford 28, Southern Cal 21
Craig's Score: Stanford 28, Southern Cal 20
Glenn's Score: Stanford 24, Southern Cal 20
Matt's Score: Southern Cal 35, Stanford 28 (upset pick)
Big Ten Championship
No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Iowa, Indianapolis, 8 p.m., FOX
The Spread: Michigan State -4; Iowa +4
Analysis: With all of the possible scenarios involving the College Football Playoff, the Big Ten championship game is simple. The winner of this game will make the final four, while the loser will be eliminated. Iowa is in current playoff position, with a perfect 12-0 record and No. 4 ranking. Michigan State is right behind in the No. 5 spot, with a 11-1 record, its lone loss coming against Nebraska, which ended with a controversial referee decision. Even though Iowa is undefeated, it isn't getting total respect around the nation because the Hawkeyes have beaten just two ranked teams, then-No. 19 Wisconsin and then-No. 20 Northwestern. Besides those two mediocre wins, there isn't much to the Hawkeyes victory total. They didn't have to play Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State in the regular season. Part of that changes Saturday night, as Iowa will play its best opponent in the conference title game. Michigan State has wins over Oregon (then-No. 7), Michigan (then-No. 12, in a wild finish) and defending national champions Ohio State (then-No. 3). Not surprisingly, Michigan State is favored over Iowa, despite the records. One of the reasons is quarterback Connor Cook, who should make the difference in a competitive conference title game.
Brad's Score: Michigan State 27, Iowa 21
Craig's Score: Iowa 21, Michigan State 20 (upset pick)
Glenn's Score: Michigan State 24, Iowa 17
Matt's Score: Michigan State 21, Iowa 20
No. 10 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Clemson, Charlotte, 8 p.m., ABC
The Spread: North Carolina +5.5; Clemson -5.5
Analysis: No one is giving North Carolina a shot of winning this game, which is likely due to history, as the Tar Heels have never been a powerhouse on the football field, nor in this position, to win an ACC championship game. Plus, there is the fact their opponent, Clemson, is undefeated and the No. 1 team in the nation. But North Carolina has a shot at the upset Saturday night in Charlotte. North Carolina has won 11 games in a row after a season-opening loss to South Carolina, which would be a guaranteed victory for the Tar Heels if the teams played last week instead. North Carolina scored 59 against Miami and then 66 against Duke after beating a ranked Pittsburgh team. The Heels then defeated Virginia Tech in Frank Beamer's last home game as coach, no easy task, and then NC State a week ago. Quarterback Marquise Williams and running back Elijah Hood form a great one-two bunch on offense and the defense is solid as well. They all will have to play their best games of the year to beat Clemson, which if it wins this game, will clinch the No. 1 seed in the final four. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is a Heisman candidate and will pose huge problems for North Carolina. For the Tar Heels to make the Playoff, they need to win this game, which would eliminate Clemson, and hope the Playoff committee puts them in the final four. They would likely need Stanford to lose the Pac-12 championship game as well to make it. It's a hard road for North Carolina, but the Playoff committee is going to have some conversation, as the Tar Heels are going to pull the upset.
Brad's Score: North Carolina 38, Clemson 35 (upset pick)
Craig's Score: Clemson 28, North Carolina 17
Glenn's Score: Clemson 31, North Carolina 14
Matt's Score: North Carolina 30, Clemson 17 (upset pick)