2023 NCAAF: Championship Week Preview

December 1, 2023

Another college football regular season has come and gone. And wow, did it go by quickly.

It feels like just yesterday that we were witnessing Colorado come in like a lion under Deion Sanders in Week 1 (only to exit like a lamb). But believe it or not, that was nearly three months ago.

A lot has happened since then, including a lot of money lost by bettors, yet still things are far from settled. Championship Weekend has arrived, and the four slots available for the College Football Playoff are hardly spoken for, save maybe one (looking at you, Michigan).

To help analyze the upcoming action, my buddy Trent is joining to make predictions for the guests. As Zach and I had the same picks last week, there was no change in the lead for K. Becks, which is more or less safe at this point. Trent can, however, ensure that the guests get over the .500 hump this week.

For reference, here are the current records:

K. Becks – 13-2

Guests – 7-8

Prior to diving into this week, let’s take a quick look back at Week 13.

3 Things We Learned in Week 13

Kyle McCord’s limitations

A lot of things had a hand in contributing to Ohio State’s 30-24 loss to Michigan, but perhaps none were more glaring than the two ill-timed interceptions by Kyle McCord that really brought to light McCord’s status as a first-year starter.

McCord has been fortunate to have at least a few future pros to sling the ball to this season, but has on more than one occasion this season has made a decision to attempt a pass that isn’t acceptable from anyone who is more than one season removed from high school football. As good as Ohio State has been collectively this season, its inconsistency at the most important position is ultimately what separates this team from true championship caliber status.

A 12 team playoff is coming, but computer involvement isn’t dead (yet)

If there is anyone out there that pines for the days when participation in title games was decided by a computer, their heart would be warmed by what occurred in the Mountain West this past weekend. Boise State’s victory over Air Force on Friday night followed by San Jose State’s win over UNLV on Saturday set up a three-way tie atop the conference, which was further complicated by the fact that Boise State and San Jose State did not have a head-to-head matchup this season to break the deadlock. So what did the Mountain West do? Defer to the computers, of course.

“Selective computer rankings” were responsible for sending the Broncos and Runnin’ Rebels to Las Vegas for the conference title game, despite the fact that odd man out San Jose State had just beaten UNLV. And after all those years of being shut out of title games in part due to computers, Boise State finally can say it knows what it feels like to be favored by them.

Rejoice! James Madison AND Jacksonville State are bowl bound

Thanks to enough mediocrity elsewhere, both the Dukes and Gamecocks are expected to receive a postseason berth. While it didn’t come as a waiver as James Madison had hoped, the program was essentially bailed out by the fact that not enough other teams had achieved bowl eligibility.

This is a huge win for bowl season, which has suffered in recent years due to the trend of star players sitting out the postseason, unless their team is playing in a truly meaningful game (translation: CFP). Both James Madison and Jacksonville State will be happy to be playing the extra game, which is typically hit or miss for many bowl game participants.

5 Games You Need to Watch This Weekend

#5 Oregon vs. #3 Washington [game in Las Vegas] (Friday, 8 PM ET – FOX)

Well, Pac-12, you did it. Things didn’t always look rosy, but you’ve got two bona fide Playoff contenders facing off in your title game. The winner of this Game of the Week will surely be heading to the CFP, ensuring that the Conference of Champions has a seat at the table before it effectively dissolves prior to next season.

Perhaps surprisingly, the unbeaten team in this matchup is a heavy underdog. Surprisingly on paper, at least. These two teams will know each other’s tendencies well, having played one of the games of the season in mid-October, which ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Ducks. That result aside, Dan Lanning’s team has looked far less shaky than Kalen DeBoer’s, which struggled as recently as last weekend in the Apple Cup. Neither team allows many sacks (both fewer than 10 this season), but expect Oregon to get aggressive at points this season to try to bait Michael Penix Jr. into some dangerous throws. If Oregon can force a couple of turnovers, it will capitalize on them.

My Pick: 34-27 Oregon (does not cover -10 spread)

Trent’s Take:

How crazy is it that both of these programs (along with USC and UCLA) are joining the Big Ten next year? No longer will the Big Ten be dominated by just one or two programs in the very near future. Good thing the playoffs are expanding, because teams like Ohio State and Michigan may need that extra room for a loss or two in their overall season record.

Anyhow, this game should make for an exciting Friday night (especially for us married men…). For the movie buffs out there, this is going to be like watching John Wick 2 after seeing the first John Wick movie in Week 7. Both teams possess top quarterbacks in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. Basically, both Nix and Penix Jr. know how to gun sling. If this matchup is anything like the previous one, it should be a close game with a lot of offense showcased.

This game is going to come down to a critical fourth down, if I had to guess. On fourth down conversions, Washington is ranked No. 4 in the nation while Oregon is ranked No. 10. On the other end of the ball, Washington’s defense is ranked No. 21 in stopping opposing offenses while Oregon’s defense ranks No 50. Washington will come away victorious on that fourth down play.

Oregon 41 – Washington 45

#18 Oklahoma State vs. #7 Texas [game in Arlington, TX] (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ABC)

The Cowboys are an enigma. Average offensive numbers. Below average defensive numbers. Blowout losses to South Alabama and Central Florida. Victories over Oklahoma and Kansas State. Yet somehow, due mostly to a wacky Big 12 and the fact that two of Oklahoma State’s three losses came out-of-conference, Mike Gundy’s team is playing for a conference title.

Everything about this matchup screams “Texas wins handily”. However, if Mike Gundy is willing to get weird (and results this season suggest he may be), this one could take a turn to Looneyville. Texas’s defense has a weak spot that a couple of teams have been able to exploit this season, and that is its pass defense. The Cowboys don’t mind throwing it a lot, and they’re 9-1 this season in games where quarterback Alan Bowman has thrown fewer than two interceptions. Forgive us if this preview reads like it was written from somewhere in Columbus, Ohio.  

My Pick: 34-24 Texas (does not cover -15 spread)

Trent’s Take:

Texas should win this game. However, it could be closer than the “mainstream experts” think. Oklahoma State has a pretty good coach in Mike Gundy and Texas has a pretty weak passing defense, which is something the Cowboys seem to be good at exploiting in any given week. Unfortunately, Oklahoma State has been blown out by the likes of UCF (sorry babe) and South Alabama. With that said, I think that like Quinn Ewers’ new haircut, the Longhorns will be all business on Saturday.

Oklahoma State 17 – Texas 27

#1 Georgia vs. #8 Alabama [game in Atlanta] (Saturday, 4 PM ET – CBS)

These two teams meeting up in the SEC title game isn’t a huge surprise, but both teams did have something to prove prior arriving here. Georgia passed its test with flying colors, delivering beatdowns in two of its three toughest games of the regular season, cementing its position as the team (still) to beat in college football. Alabama wasn’t so convincing. The Crimson Tide knew it had a question mark at quarterback when the season began, and that question mark arguably never went away. Nick Saban’s squad is very lucky it still has an outside shot at making the CFP.

Vegas knows something Around The Corn doesn’t, because it’s very hard to see this game being decided by less than a touchdown. Alabama’s run defense is decent but not dominant, and Georgia will seemingly have the ability to chew clock in the second half if it has a lead. While Alabama has shown an ability to play from behind to win, it wasn’t against a defense like Georgia’s. Jalen Milroe was clutch for a play last weekend, but will be leaned upon even more heavily on Saturday if Alabama is playing catchup in the second half.

My Pick: 31-20 Georgia (covers -5.5 spread)

Trent’s Take:

This is a tough one. Both teams have impressive victories over Top 15 teams and Alabama’s only loss is to a pretty good Texas team which came very early on in the season. On paper, Georgia is clearly the better team. However, football (especially collegiate football) isn’t always about X’s and O’s but rather about the Jimmy’s and Milroe’s.

I think this game will be an upset led by Jalen Milroe. Jalen is no stranger to being an underdog as he was once told that he “wasn’t smart enough” to play QB at Alabama. Since being benched in Week 3, he has since been on a tear and has had 26 touchdown passes and only five turnovers. Fifteen of those touchdowns have come in the last month. Jalen is far from a polished, elite collegiate QB, but he seems to be hot at the right time.

Georgia 30 – Alabama 31

#2 Michigan vs. #16 Iowa [game in Indianapolis] (Saturday, 8 PM ET – FOX)

The fact that the O/U for points scored by Iowa in the first half was initially set at half a point tells you just about everything you need to know about this game. Iowa’s offensive figures this season place it at the bottom of the conference in terms of yards per game. Hilariously, that doesn’t do justice in describing its passing offense, which averages fewer yards per game than every other non-service academy in the country. Brian Ferentz was doing yeoman’s work prior to receiving the axe.

As if Iowa’s offensive ineptitude wasn’t enough to convince you that Michigan is going to win this game, consider what the Wolverines did last weekend. Only Notre Dame had managed to post at least 150 yards passing and rushing on the Buckeyes this season before Michigan did the same. The Wolverines can afford to be choosy, offensively speaking, in this one if they want to be. But they’re equally as likely to employ a balanced attack against the Hawkeyes. Either way, Michigan appears poised to run away with the Big Ten title.

My Pick: 31-6 Michigan (covers -21.5 spread)

Trent’s Take:

My heart says to pick Iowa, but frankly that is because it is broken. </3. To its credit, Iowa has won a lot of games this year. To its discredit, most of those games have been to either mid-tier Big Ten teams or even what some people would call “cupcake” teams. It also doesn’t help Iowa’s case that it was blown out by Penn State, which is arguably also a “mid” program in the grand scheme of things.

My brain says this is an easy Michigan victory. I don’t think they’ll need any stolen signs to win this game.

Michigan 35 – Iowa 13

#14 Louisville vs. #4 Florida State [game in Charlotte, NC] (Saturday, 8 PM ET – AB)

In the past two weeks, the ACC has been dealt multiple blows that has makes this game feel inferior compared to the other Power 5 conference title matchups. That is, of course, not true, as a win by Florida State effectively ensures that the Seminoles will be one of the four teams playing in the CFP. But without Jordan Travis, Florida State’s offense was a shell of what it had been leading up to Travis’s season-ending leg injury. While Louisville wasn’t truly a Playoff contender even before its loss to Kentucky last weekend, that setback ensured that the Cardinals wouldn’t come into this one with a chance to preserve a Top 10 ranking.

Life without Travis proved tough for the Seminoles, as the offense failed to eclipse 300 total yards for the first time all season and scored just 24 points against Florida, tied for its lowest output of the campaign. Louisville has hung its hat on a potent offense all season, and even in its two losses was able to rack up over 500 yards collectively through the air. The Seminoles’ defense will be leaned upon extremely heavily in this one, and as solid as it has been, can’t be expected to totally stifle the Cardinals. If Brian Brohm’s squad is able to score 24 points, it could be enough.

My Pick: 27-21 Louisville (covers +1.5 spread)

Trent’s Take:

Louisville and Florida state are more evenly matched than I had originally expected. According to statistics, FSU’s offense has been averaging 38 points per game, while Louisville’s offense has been averaging about 33 points per game. Now subtract Jordan Travis from the equation and all of a sudden you’re looking at an FSU team that might struggle to keep up. Tate Rodemaker has stepped in and has had solid performances over the last couple of weeks. Surprisingly, both defenses are also closely ranked with FSU’s total defense ranked No. 20 and Louisville’s total defense ranked at No. 19.

I think Louisville edges out a victory in this game.

Louisville 24 – Florida State 20

5 Games to Keep an Eye On This Weekend

New Mexico State at #24 Liberty (Friday, 7 PM ET – CBS Sports Network)

The Flames will need a little help from the AAC title game outcome to have a shot at a New Year’s Six Bowl, but regardless of what happens Jamey Chadwell has proven that he can produce a champion anywhere in the country.

Miami (OH) vs. Toledo [game in Detroit] (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

This battle between Ohio schools that wouldn’t quite be categorized as a rivalry is about as good a matchup as the MAC could have hoped its title game would get.

Boise State vs. UNLV [game in Las Vegas] (Saturday, 3 PM ET – FOX)

Las Vegas is busy this weekend, hosting not one but two conference title games in consecutive days. Somehow, Boise State snuck into this game thanks to a computer and will look to capture its fifth Mountain West title, while UNLV is making its first ever appearance in the conference’s title game.

SMU at #22 Tulane (Saturday, 4 PM ET – ABC)

A win would effectively lock up a second consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl berth for the Green Wave, but it won’t come easily. SMU has played great football over its past eight since starting the season 2-2.

Appalachian State at Troy (Saturday, 4 PM ET – ESPN)

The Fun Belt has lived up to its name this season, and although we won’t get to see James Madison vie for a conference title, Appalachian State is a deserving replacement given that the Mountaineers are the only team to have beaten the Dukes this season.

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