College News & Analysis

College Football Conference Championship Preview: Storylines, matchups and predictions for the Power Five games

2T9MCCP Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe carries the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

• Georgia-Alabama: The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide meet in the SEC Championship game, with the winner likely clinching a spot in the playoff.

• Washington-Oregon: The Pac-12 Championship game can be seen as a pseudo-College Football Playoff quarterfinal, as the winner is essentially guaranteed a spot in the final four.

• Florida State-Louisville: The Seminoles will try to continue their undefeated season in the ACC Championship game with a backup quarterback.

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

We’ve reached conference championship weekend, and there are amazingly still eight teams alive for the College Football Playoff. Every Power Five conference has at least one contender, setting up some massive stakes this weekend.

Here are the playoff scenarios, matchups to watch and predictions for each of the Power Five conference championship games.



Playoff scenario: Win and you’re in for both teams, but Washington could potentially sneak in with a loss

The Pac-12 Championship game is the lone pseudo-College Football Playoff quarterfinal this week, meaning the winner is locked into the final four no matter what happens in the other matchups.

Oregon is certainly eliminated with a loss, since it would be its second defeat of the season, both coming to Washington. However, the undefeated Huskies' playoff dreams might not necessarily die if they go down. They would likely need Florida State, Texas and Alabama to all lose, as well, to remain in the conversation. Even then, there’s still a chance that the selection committee sides with an 11-1 Ohio State over a 12-1 Washington.

Matchup to watch: The Heisman Trophy is on the line

Not only will this game determine the Pac-12 champion and one of the four College Football Playoff teams, but it might also determine who takes home the sport’s highest individual honor.

Oregon quarterback Bo Nix is the current betting favorite (-185), according to BetMGM. He leads college football with a 92.8 passing grade and an 85.7% adjusted completion rate this season. If he and the Ducks can avenge their earlier loss to the Huskies, the fifth-year senior is most likely taking home the stiff-arm trophy.

Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. is third in BetMGM’s Heisman odds (+1600). He paces all FBS quarterbacks with 3,903 passing yards, while his 31 big-time throws rank third. There’s a chance he can win the Heisman with a masterful performance against Oregon, although a Husky victory would more likely allow LSU’s Jayden Daniels to (rightfully) overtake Nix as the favorite.

Prediction: Oregon 34, Washington 33

Oregon avenges its earlier loss to Washington and clinches a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Huskies do keep it close enough to stay alive in the race if chaos ensues.



Playoff scenario: Texas needs help, even with a win

The Longhorns need some assistance to make the playoff, even if they win their conference title game. Texas needs to win and have either Michigan or Florida State lose to feel good about its playoff chances. A Georgia loss could also be enough since Texas beat Alabama on the road earlier this season. However, it’s certainly not a guarantee that the committee would keep the Longhorns over the Crimson Tide or the Bulldogs in that scenario.

Oklahoma State is out of the playoff discussion with three losses but can win its first Big 12 championship since 2011. A win would also ensure the Cowboys go to their second New Year’s Six bowl in three seasons.

Matchup to watch: Ollie Gordon II vs. Texas’ run defense

Ollie Gordon II is the engine of Oklahoma State’s offense. The sophomore leads the country with 1,580 rushing yards this year, and his 20 rushing touchdowns and 925 yards after contact rank second. Making those numbers even more eye-popping is the fact that the Cowboys rank just 88th in run-blocking grade (57.2). Gordon has an immense amount of pressure to perform every week because Oklahoma State places just 78th in the nation in expected points added per pass.

Texas ranks eighth in the FBS in rushing yards per attempt allowed (3.9) and fourth in yards after contact per attempt allowed (2.4), meaning Gordon must put up a superhuman performance if the Cowboys are to have any shot at an upset.

Prediction: Texas 38, Oklahoma State 17

The Longhorns cruise to their first Big 12 championship in 14 years and turn their attention to the later games as they await their playoff fate.



Playoff scenario: Win and in for Georgia, which can still make it with a loss, and potentially win and in for Alabama

Georgia will clinch the top seed in the College Football Playoff with a win over Alabama on Saturday. If the defending back-to-back national champs lose, though, they’ll likely need two of Michigan, Florida State and Texas to lose to still sneak into the playoff.

There’s a chance that the Crimson Tide could get into the playoff with just a win over the Bulldogs, considering it would be Georgia’s first loss since the SEC Championship game two years ago (also to Alabama). However, the committee may side with Texas in that situation, since the Longhorns beat the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa earlier this season. With that in mind, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for Texas, Florida State or Michigan to lose to assure Alabama’s spot in the playoff.

Matchup to watch: Can Georgia contain Jalen Milroe?

Of the 11 FBS teams Georgia played this season, only four ended with the Bulldogs winning by 10 or fewer points. Coincidentally, all four teams that kept it close with Georgia had a dual-threat quarterback.

Most Rushing Yards by a QB Against Georgia | 2023, Among FBS Teams
Name School Rushing Yards Lost By…
Payton Thorne Auburn 107 yards 7 points
Brady Cook Missouri 52 yards 9 points
Spencer Rattler South Carolina 50 yards 10 points
Haynes King Georgia Tech 42 yards 8 points

Jalen Milroe will be the best dual-threat quarterback that Georgia’s faced this season and the best quarterback the Bulldogs have faced period. His 87.5 rushing grade trails only Jayden Daniels among FBS quarterbacks, while his 12 rushing touchdowns are tied for second. Milroe is also fifth in the country with a 91.4 grade and second with a 9.7% big-time throw rate.

The Bulldogs must commit a spy to Milroe on every play but can’t afford to always stack the box because he can beat them over the top.

Prediction: Alabama 30, Georgia 27

Milroe’s dual-threat ability proves too much for Georgia to handle, creating a fascinating debate between the Crimson Tide and the Longhorns for the final playoff spot.



Playoff scenario: Win and in for Michigan, but not dead with a loss

Michigan can clinch its third straight Big Ten title and playoff appearance with a win over Iowa on Saturday. Even if the Hawkeyes pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season, the Wolverines’ College Football Playoff hopes aren’t necessarily dashed. Michigan would likely need two of Florida State, Texas and Alabama to lose to still get into the final four with a loss.

While Iowa won’t make the playoff with a victory, the Hawkeyes can still win their first Big Ten title in 19 years and make their first New Year’s Six bowl since 2015 by pulling off the shocker.

Matchup to watch: How ugly can Iowa make this game?

Iowa’s only chance to pull this off is through a low-scoring affair. The Hawkeyes have the worst Power Five offense and the second-worst unit nationally in expected points allowed per play. Michigan’s defense ranks second in that same statistic.

The Hawkeyes managed to finish with a 10-2 record with such a putrid offense because their defense ranks fifth in the FBS in both grade and EPA per play. The Wolverines are also fifth in offensive grading and EPA per play, meaning Iowa’s defense needs to have the game of its life to even have a remote chance at winning.

Prediction: Michigan 27, Iowa 10

Jim Harbaugh returns from his suspension and leads his program to a third consecutive Big Ten championship and playoff appearance.



Playoff scenario: Win and in for Florida State, no matter what anybody says

There’s been a lot of debate over whether Florida State should make the College Football Playoff, even if the team finishes with a 13-0 record. That’s because the Seminoles’ star quarterback, Jordan Travis, is out for the season after suffering a gruesome leg injury against North Alabama a couple of weeks ago.

Let’s end that conversation right now. An undefeated Power Five champion has to get into the College Football Playoff. Since the four-team playoff’s inception in 2014, an unbeaten Power Five champion has never been left out of the final four. There’s only one instance where a one-loss champion missed out, and that was when Baylor and TCU shared the Big 12 title in 2014. A one-loss Ohio State won the national championship that season despite entering the playoff on its third-string quarterback (Cardale Jones). If the Seminoles lose, there’s virtually no scenario where they can sneak in without Travis.

Louisville is probably locked into a New Year’s Six spot, regardless of the outcome of this game. A Florida State victory should send the Seminoles to the playoff, while the Cardinals would go to the Orange Bowl as the next-best ACC team. It will be Louisville’s first New Year’s Six appearance in 11 years.

Matchup to watch: Can Trey Benson carry the Seminoles' offense?

Florida State’s passing game struggled in a 24-15 victory over Florida this past Saturday. Although the Gators rank 113th nationally in coverage grade (66.8), quarterback Tate Rodemaker completed only 48% of his passes for 134 yards in the win. It was running back Trey Benson who carried the Seminoles to victory with three rushing touchdowns, the only three times FSU got into the endzone.

Louisville’s defense ranks 18th in EPA per pass this season and 17th in rushing yards allowed per attempt (4.2 yards). If Rodemaker doesn’t drastically improve against a much better defense, Florida State will need Benson to carry the load once again.

Prediction: Florida State 27, Louisville 24

The Seminoles pull off a close victory and should clinch their first playoff berth in nine years.

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