College News & Analysis

College Football Conference Championship Weekend Takeaways: Notable grades, advanced stats and more

College Park, Maryland, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson (32) celebrates with quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) after scoring a first quarter touchdown against the Maryland Terrapins at SECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

• The 2022 College Football Playoff is set: Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Ohio State will compete for the national championship.

• Ohio State wins the weekend: Despite not playing this weekend, the Buckeyes re-joined the College Football Playoff thanks to fourth-ranked USC’s loss.

• Will Caleb Williams still win the Heisman?: After losing to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, USC quarterback Caleb Williams saw his Heisman candidacy take a hit.

Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins

The debates are over.

College football's 2022 conference championship weekend provided absolute insanity, including two of the previous top four teams losing in No. 3 TCU and fourth-ranked USC. With that, the 2022 College Football Playoff is set. Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Ohio State will compete for a spot in the national championship on New Year’s Eve.

Before that, here is everything to know from a wild weekend of football.

Chaos in the Pac-12 and Big 12

Two of the top four teams in college football went down in their respective conference championship games over the weekend. 

Third-ranked TCU lost in overtime to No. 10 Kansas State, 31-28, marking the Horned Frogs’ first loss of the season. The Wildcats were led by running back Deuce Vaughn, who ran for 130 yards and a touchdown on 26 attempts, forcing seven missed tackles and breaking ankles along the way.

Even with the loss, TCU is still comfortably in the playoff, thanks in part to fourth-ranked USC losing Friday night to No. 11 Utah, 47-24, in the Pac-12 championship game. The Trojans' defense allowed 0.380 expected points per play, the most they’ve let up all season. USC is now 11-2 on the season, with both losses coming to the Utes. 

One of the weirder Heisman races

Conference championship weekend is a time for teams to make one final push for a better bowl game invite.

It's also a final chance for players to boost their resumes for individual awards, most notably the Heisman Trophy. However, the Heisman race got even more muddied following a chaotic weekend.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams was the heavy favorite entering the weekend (-2500), per BetMGM. However, it was a less-than-stellar performance for Williams against Utah, with a 65.1 passing grade in addition to two turnover-worthy plays. Plus, with the Trojans’ loss, he won’t be playing in the College Football Playoff, something the past five Heisman winners have done. Williams will still likely bring home the hardware, but that’s more because of a lack of deserving candidates than his own doing. 

In fact, the four quarterbacks in the playoff — Georgia’s Stetson Bennett, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, TCU’s Max Duggan and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud — all are outside the top 15 FBS quarterbacks in terms of PFF grade. 

The highest-graded Power Five quarterback, North Carolina’s Drake Maye, just suffered his third straight loss — and fourth of the season — against Clemson in the ACC championship game. 

Michigan running back Blake Corum is in the playoff and is the highest-graded player in the country (95.9), but he’s out for the season with a knee injury and missed Michigan’s biggest games of the season versus Ohio State and the Big Ten championship against Purdue, both of which the Wolverines did just fine in without him. They won those contests by a combined 43 points.

Conference championship weekend usually brings clarity to the Heisman race. This year, the race just got cloudier and voters don’t have a clear answer.

Ohio State is the biggest winner of the weekend … without playing

The Buckeyes didn’t even participate in conference championship weekend, but they were arguably the biggest winner after the dust settled.

That’s because they are heading to the College Football Playoff in No. 4 USC’s stead following the Trojans suffering their second loss at the hands of Utah.

Now, Ohio State has the tall task of taking on top-ranked Georgia in the semifinal. If the Buckeyes can get through the Bulldogs, a potential rematch with second-ranked Michigan awaits them in the national championship game.

After losing to the Wolverines last week, Ohio State needed chaos to re-enter the top four. Chaos ensued.

Tulane makes history

While Ohio State was looking to avoid a non-playoff New Year’s Six bowl game, that was exactly what Tulane was searching for.

The No. 18 Green Wave defeated No. 22 UCF, 45-28, in the American Athletic championship game. In that game, Tyjae Spears proved why he’s the most valuable Group of Five running back, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. The junior ran for 199 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against the Knights, forcing 11 missed tackles and picking up 182 yards after contact.

Not only did Tulane win its first conference title since 1998, but the Green Wave also will play in a New Year’s Six bowl game as the highest-ranked Group of Five champion. Tulane hasn’t played in one of college football’s six biggest bowl games in 83 years, back when it was a member of the SEC. 

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