It’s championship weekend in the college football world, and oh boy are there some great matchups out there. It is going to be a fantastic college football Saturday. My picks are at the .500 mark, and it’s time to close out the season with a winning record.
Last Week: 7-4
Time to finish strong.
Northwestern vs Ohio State -20.5
After the Big Ten axed their six-game requirement for the Big Ten title game, 5-0 Ohio State heads to Indianapolis to take on 6-1 Northwestern. I think the Buckeyes are going to come out firing. Not only did their rivalry game with Michigan get cancelled, but the Buckeyes will need to leave no doubt about their College Football Playoff chances to the committee. I think both of those factors will have the Buckeyes fired up. Not only that, but they are simply the better team. Ohio State has routed everyone they have played with the exception of No. 11 Indiana. That game ended 42-35, but the Buckeyes were up 35-7 at one point. Indiana was able to fight back thanks to Michael Penix Jr. completing six passes of 30+ yards on the Ohio State secondary. It was big play after big play. Although the Ohio State secondary has not been as dominant as recent years, the good news is that Northwestern’s offense does not possess that air-raid threat. The Wildcats will try to slow things down and muck up the game as much as they can with lots of runs, and although Peyton Ramsey is a solid QB, I don’t think he will be able to air it out much in this one. NW’s offense ranks 12th in the Big Ten in total yards per game, and Ohio State’s defensive front is among the best in the country. They’ve only played five games this season, but the Buckeyes have recorded more sacks than eight other Big Ten programs have been able to in six or seven games. The Buckeye front four will not only limit the Wildcat rushing attack, but put pressure on Ramsey when he tries to throw. And then offensively, Ohio State has so much talent. Justin Fields, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Master Teague are a nightmare to prepare for, and I think they will give NW’s defense a lot of issues. Northwestern’s defense is very good, but they still played one-score games with Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue, and lost to Michigan State. The only time Justin Fields has looked vulnerable this season was that Indiana game where he threw three picks. Indiana’s defense by-far-and-away has the best interception percentage in the country, and although Fields did make some terrible decisions in that game, he still threw for 300 yards and accounted for three total TD’s. I don’t think Northwestern’s secondary will be able to pick him off like that, and I think the Buckeyes offense will be too much to handle in this one. The floodgates will open leading to a big Buckeyes victory and cover. Give me the Bucks -20.5.
Clemson -10 vs Notre Dame and Over 60
Clemson has dominated the ACC Championship game in recent years. Dabo Swinney’s teams have won five of these games in a row, and six since 2011. Not only that, but they have obliterated their opponents, winning the last three by a combined score of 142-30. Now, this Notre Dame team is a lot better than 2019 Virginia, 2018 Pitt, or 2017 Miami, and I think this will be a tremendous game to watch. These two teams played a helluva game in South Bend last month, with the Irish coming out on top 47-40 in double OT. Obviously, the big storyline of that game was Trevor Lawrence not playing, but he is back for this tilt in Charlotte. The Tigers had freshman QB D.J. Uiagalelei in that matchup, and he played extremely well, leading Clemson to 33 points in regulation despite three lost fumbles from the Tiger offense. With Lawrence back, Clemson has put up 97 points in two games. The Tigers haven’t had any trouble with him at the helm, as they have won their six games with Lawrence playing by 29, 25, 66, 26, 35, and 35 points for an average margin of victory of 36 points. I think Clemson will rely on the probable No. 1 overall NFL draft pick to make some big plays in this game, and I think he has a big day. On the other hand, Notre Dame’s offense has been rolling as well. Ian Book has been very impressive this year, and he is playing better than ever. Against Clemson the first time around, the Irish managed 518 yards of total offense, and Book threw for 303 himself. The ND rushing attack was also effective, running for 210 yards thanks in large part to 140 from Kyren Williams—along with three touchdowns. I think both teams will do enough to take this one Over.
That being said, I think Clemson does enough to not only win this game, but cover as well. The previous matchup was the only game this season that Clemson has allowed more than 150 yards rushing. In addition, ND was 10-of-19 on third down. Clemson is the best third down defense in the ACC, and that was the only time this season they have allowed a third down percentage of above 40% to their opponents. I think DC Brent Venables will make some serious adjustments this time around to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Notre Dame has enough talent offensively to still score enough to take the total Over, but I don’t think Venables will allow a repeat of the 47 point performance (33 in regulation) we saw last month. I think he will have a game plan ready to make sure that the Irish offense cannot hang with Lawrence and the Tigers. In addition, there might be a little extra fuel for the Tigers, given their pursuit of revenge, but also their CFP chances. Notre Dame ~seems to be~ in the CFP regardless of the outcome in this game. However, Clemson could very well be out if they lose, and I don’t think they want to be in the position of “leaving it up to the committee.” If they lose, they would have two losses, both to Notre Dame, and there would be serious questions if that is good enough to get in. I don’t think they want to be in that situation at all, and I think they will want to win this game decisively to leave no doubt. Clemson has dominated in Charlotte under Dabo, and I think they make the adjustments needed to get their revenge on the Irish. Give me the Tigers -10 and the Over as well.
Ole Miss @ LSU Under 78.5
LSU is coming off their monster win on the road against then-No. 6 Florida. Coach O’s squad was severely undermanned, and freshman QB Max Johnson was making his first career start under center. Not a lot was looking good for the Tigers, but they went into The Swamp and handed the Gators a 37-34 loss. Johnson threw for 239 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. As impressive as that win was, a bit of a natural letdown can be expected after an emotional win like that. I also think the LSU offense will try to get the running game going (they rushed for 179 against Florida), and give the young freshman some shorter throws to build confidence in his first home start. If they can establish the run, it can help control the clock and keep the Ole Miss offense on the sidelines, as I don’t think the Tigers necessarily want to be in a shootout here, especially given their limited roster availability. The Ole Miss defense has been bad, as they are 127th in total yards allowed in the country with 528.5 per game, but they have not played in three weeks. I think that gives them a bit of an advantage defensively, as they are fresh and should be able to find a bit of rhythm on the defensive side—certainly more than offensively, which is another reason why I like the Under here. After a long layoff like that, it can be tough for a passing offense like Ole Miss to get back into the swing of things. This is a pretty high number, and eight of LSU’s nine games have stayed Under 78.5, while four of Ole Miss’ eight games have stayed Under this mark. We could very well see a lot of points and still see this total stay Under. I’m rolling with it.
Alabama vs Florida Over 74
Well, Florida kinda ruined a lot of hype in this game by losing to a three-win LSU team at home last week, but there are still plenty of reasons this game is still going to be great. For starters, this game could very well decide who wins the Heisman Trophy. Kyle Trask, Mac Jones, and DeVonta Smith are all in that Heisman conversation, and seem to be the top three choices at this point in time. They are all offensive players in action here for the SEC Championship. I think that means we see a lot of points. Florida’s defense has struggled all season, and Alabama’s explosive offense has been a non-stop points barrage. Mac Jones is completing 72.9% of his passes with 27 TD’s and three interceptions, and his connection with DeVonta Smith has resulted in 15 of those TD passes, along with 1,327 yards. That combo is lethal. RB Najee Harris may not be in the Heisman race this season, but he is one of the best running backs in the country, running for 1,084 yards, 5.2 YPC, and 22 TD’s this season. Florida’s defense has been less than stellar all season, and I think Bama will put up points early and often. That means Florida is going to have to score quickly as well. Florida’s offense has a ton of firepower themselves, as Kyle Trask is completing 70.7% of his passes for 40 TD’s and five interceptions. Florida doesn’t run the ball as much, as their leading rusher Dameon Pierce has 441 yards on the year, so look for them to do a lot of their damage through the air with Trask. Kaderious Toney can make electric plays all over the field, and after missing the LSU game, Kyle Pitts should be ready to go in this one. These two offenses are as explosive as they get, and I think that leads to a lot of big plays and a lotta points. I’ll take the Over here in the SEC Title game.
Missouri ML @ Mississippi State
It is year 1 with Eli Drinkwitz at the helm, and the Missouri Tigers will not have a losing season. That is very impressive, and I don’t think many people would have predicted that at the beginning of the season. Currently at 5-4, the Tigers are going for their sixth win of the year in Starkville against Mike Leach’s Mississippi State team. Missouri has taken care of business against lesser teams this season, beating LSU, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas who have a combined record of 13-35. Three of their four losses are to teams currently ranked in the top-10 CFP rankings: No. 1 Alabama, No. 7 Florida, and No. 8 Georgia. No shame in that. Mississippi State is 2-7, and I think Mizzou will be able to get their sixth win here. Freshman QB Connor Balezak is leading the way offensively with 269.7 passing yards per game, and RB Larry Roundtree III is Mizzou’s all-time leading rusher, and can run for big chunks of yards on any given run. I see him having a solid day and providing balance to the Tiger offense. Mississippi State’s offense appeared to be turning a corner, but their non-existent running game is really proving costly, and it did last week as they ran for just 19 yards against Auburn. I like Will Rogers at QB, but with no help from the running game, it has been tough sledding for the Bulldog offense to score points. Mizzou’s defense is strong, and their passing defense is 5th in the SEC. That might give Rogers and the Bulldog offense some problems. Overall, Mizzou has handled lesser opponents this season, and I think they are the better all-around team here. I’m taking them on the road in this one.
Oklahoma -5.5 vs Iowa State
Iowa State has not won a conference title since 1912, and they have never won it outright, as they tied with Nebraska that season. They have a chance to finally do that here against an Oklahoma team that they have already beaten this season. Now, that game was in Ames all the way back on October 3rd, and a lot has changed since then. Oklahoma has reeled off six straight wins since that game, and have an improved defense along with a stable running game thanks to Rhamondre Stevenson. After having to sit out the first five games of the season, the powerful running back has 382 yards and six touchdowns in four games. He, along with pass-rushing extraordinarie Ronnie Perkins both missed the first matchup in Ames, and they will be active in this one. The Sooners will be ready. Defensively, the Sooners are 16th in the nation this season. They are No. 1 in the Big 12 against the run, No. 1 in pass efficiency, No. 1 in sacks, and haven’t allowed more than 300 yards of total offense in any of the last three games. They are clicking defensively at the right time. I really like Brock Purdy and Breece Hall for Iowa State, but this Oklahoma defense is the real deal, and I think they will be able to give the Cyclones offense some problems. Iowa State will no doubt run with Hall a lot, and the Sooners are one of the best teams in the country in getting tackles for loss. In addition, OU’s pass rush is good enough to make Purdy uncomfortable when they do decide to pass. Oklahoma gave up 37 last time around, but with a much improved defense and time to watch film and adjust, I think they put together a solid game plan here. I also think they have the more explosive offense. Spencer Rattler has benefited greatly from an improved running game, and this team is still putting up 43.4 points per game. This is Oklahoma’s fourth straight Big 12 title game, and they have won the previous three. They will be familiar with the territory, and won’t be phased by the bright lights of Jerry World. On the other hand, this is perhaps the biggest game in Iowa State history, and although I really like head coach Matt Campbell, there is no telling how his team will be prepared for a stage like this. I think a lot of people kinda wrote off this Oklahoma team in early October after those back-to-back losses, and I think they will be ready to prove that they are still a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12. I’m taking the Sooners -5.5.
Illinois @ Penn State -15
Illinois fired head coach Lovie Smith earlier this week, and the program is a little directionless at this point in time. On the other side, after an 0-5 start, Penn State has turned things around a bit and won three straight. They no doubt have the momentum in this matchup, and ending the season on a four-game winning streak would certainly help things moving forward. I just don’t know how Illinois is going to generate points in this one. They are averaging just 20 points per game this season, and they will be without top WR Josh Imatorbhebhe, as he declared for the NFL Draft this week. The Illini are mostly a rushing team, but having Imatorbhebhe on the outside helped to balance things out and he is a big target down in the red zone. Without him, QB Brandon Peters is down his top weapon, and I expect the Illini to stick with their ground game behind All-Big Ten lineman Kendrick Green and honorable mention Doug Kramer. RB’s Chase Brown and Mike Epstein have been great, and Peters has only been sacked four times this season. However, they weren’t able to do much of anything against Northwestern, scoring just 10 points, and Penn State’s defense has definitely picked it up as of late. I think the Nittany Lions will be ready to limit this Illini offense. I kinda think they will be playing for pride, and this game gives them an opportunity to salvage at least a little bit of a lost season. Meanwhile, the Penn State offense ranks second in the conference in total offense (411.6 yards/game), sixth in passing offense (247.1 yards/game), seventh in rushing offense (164.5 yards/game). They’ve still been able to generate offense, and Illinois’ defense is dead-last in the Big Ten, allowing 451.1 yards per game to their opponents. Penn State has won four of the last five meetings against the Illini by a combined score of 175-64. I think the Nittany Lions roll here with a big win and cover.
Tulsa @ Cincinnati -14 and Over 45
These are the top two defenses in the AAC, but I think this one goes Over. Cincinnati’s lowest offensive output this season was 24 points, and that was all the way back in their second game of the season. The Bearcats have the No. 1 rushing offense in the AAC, and No. 12 in the entire country with 234.3 yards per game on the ground. QB Desmond Ridder averages a similar number through the air, so the offense is extremely balanced. Tulsa’s defense has been good, but they have only held opponents to less than 20 points three times this season. I think the Cincinnati offense will be too much for them to handle. In addition, Cincy has been getting disrespected in the CFP rankings, as they have dropped in the rankings in back-to-back weeks despite not playing any games. I think they will have some extra motivation in this game to show just how good they really are, and that could lead to their point total lighting up the scoreboard. Cincy’s defense is 9th in the country, allowing just 308.1 yards per game, but I think Tulsa will generate enough offense to have at least some success. The Golden Hurricane are putting up 27.7 points per game, along with over 400 yards of offense. This is a relatively low number, and 11 of these teams’ 15 games have gone Over 45. I like the Over here. I am also rolling with Cincy -14, given the fact that they will have some extra motivation, will be at home, and have won their games by an average of 25.5 points this season. I think they have an impressive outing with a win and cover here.
Title Photo: JustBombsProductions