Championship Weekend preview

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Playoff seeds hang in the balance with conference titles

Brad Curnow | Sports Writer | @jojocornrow
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After a complete season with disappointments and surprises, one weekend will decide the fate of three teams with a single goal of reaching the College Football Playoff. With the Oklahoma Sooners essentially locked into the playoff after winning the Big 12, three spots remain with four Power 5 championships to fill the holes.

Here are some scenarios coming into the weekend. Michigan State and Iowa are playing for a spot; the winner is a lock. Clemson is in with a win, but North Carolina would need help with a USC win. Alabama is another lock with a win, but Florida would likely need help from North Carolina and USC wins, even then they’re questionable.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

Michigan State and Iowa will face off in the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. With the Hawkeyes and Spartans sitting fourth and fifth, respectively, in the playoff polls, the winner takes the fourth and final spot in the College Football Playoff. Michigan State is looking to ride a three-game winning streak through the title game. Quarterback Connor Cook’s hot hand aims to lead the Spartans to a title. Cook has thrown 22 touchdowns to just four interceptions on the season.

Undefeated Iowa faces their first test of the season after a schedule consisting of Wisconsin and Northwestern as the only ranked opponents. Iowa’s overall opponent record ended at 61-70. The Hawkeyes will lean heavily on their running game, which is led by running back Jordan Canzeri.

My pick: Michigan State

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Clemson Tigers

North Carolina will challenge Clemson for the ACC crown at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. The Tigers have taken seven of the last nine meetings from the Tar Heels. North Carolina is riding an 11-game winning streak after dropping their opener to South Carolina. The Tar Heels are led by the two-headed offensive attack of quarterback Marquise Williams and running back Elijah Hood.

Clemson boasts the nation’s longest active winning streak at 15 games. The last two years the Tigers have beaten the Tar Heels by an average of 18 points. Clemson is led by ACC Player of the Year; quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has scored 36 total touchdowns on the season.

My pick: Clemson

Stanford Cardinal vs USC Trojans

Stanford and USC will meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game and a spot in the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal have won five of the last seven meetings against the Trojans, including a 41-31 win on September 19th this season. At 10-2, Stanford’s two losses this season came by a combined 12 points. Stanford is dangerous with running back and return man Christian McCaffrey currently leading the nation in all-purpose yards with 3,035 yards.

USC comes in riding high after winning five of the last six games of their season. The Trojans posted an average of 29 points per game during the six-game stretch. USC has been a force in the second half of games, outscoring opponents by a total of 107-65 since a win over Utah.

Winner: USC 

Florida Gators vs Alabama Crimson Tide

Florida and Alabama will collide in the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA. The Gators have struggled offensively since losing quarterback Will Grier to a performance enhancing drug suspension, including scoring just two points last week against Florida State. Florida survived by their defense their last four wins, allowing an average of 9.5 points.

Alabama has blown out Florida the last four times the two have met. Running back Derrick Henry has shouldered the offensive load for the Crimson Tide by leading the nation with 22 rushing touchdowns and rushing for a total of 1,797 yards. Alabama comes into the weekend sixth in the nation with an average margin of victory of 20.2 points.

Winner: Alabama

Temple Owls vs Houston Cougars

Houston will host Temple in the AAC Championship Game in Houston, TX. The conference champion is likely headed for a New Year’s Six bowl. The Owls have never beaten the Cougars on the field in four meetings, but have one victory by forfeit from 1987. After a 7-0 start, Temple cooled off a little towards the end of the season by finishing 3-2 in their final five games after a devastating loss to Notre Dame.

Houston ran through an easy schedule, finishing 11-1, while playing just two ranked teams on the season. The Cougars boast the third highest margin of victory in the FBS at 20.9 points per game.

Winner: Houston