Conference Championship Analysis- Inaugural 2017 Edition

For the ninth-straight year, I will be publishing weekly November columns analyzing the conference championship races.  Like my bowl bubble watch, there is not really a column like this on any other mainstream college football site.  Bold teams have already clinched their division or conference.  Italicized teams are my predicted champions of their respective conferences/divisions at this point in time.  This list is updated through all games played on October 28, 2017.

ACC AtlanticClemson (This is essentially a two team race between the Tigers and Wolfpack with the de facto division title game coming this Saturday in Raleigh.  I think the Tigers will win a close one there which means they will just have to beat lowly Florida State at home the following week to clinch the Atlantic.)

ACC CoastalMiami (I’m sticking with my preseason pick here despite their recent struggles.  The Hurricanes are unbeaten yet have looked increasingly unimpressive.  In fact, Miami is a field goal underdog at home this weekend against the Hokies of Virginia Tech.  However, Miami has that team of destiny feel you see every few years in college football, so I’m going to pick them to pull out a tight one against VT, which will all but give them the Coastal Division crown.  Even if Miami loses on Saturday, the Canes can still clinch the division with a Virginia Tech loss against Georgia Tech and wins against Virginia and Pitt.)

Big Ten EastOhio State (I picked the Buckeyes to lose their season finale Ann Arbor in my preseason predictions, and I’m going to stick with that prediction despite Michigan’s recent struggles.  With that being said, as long as Ohio State wins all their other games then they’ll still clinch the East over Penn State by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker).

Big Ten WestWisconsin (The Badgers may become the first team in the country to officially clinch their division crown, as all they need to do is beat lowly Indiana this Saturday.)

Big 12Oklahoma State/Oklahoma (So now that there is an official Big 12 title game, the battle for the # 2 spot is more important than actually winning the regular season championship.  In the preseason, I predicted that game to be a rematch of this Saturday’s Bedlam game between Oklahoma State and Oklahoma and I’m going to stick with that prediction despite the surprising rise of both TCU and Iowa State.  I think the Cowboys will win out to get the top spot in the conference, and Oklahoma will knock off TCU to get the # 2 spot.  The Cyclones currently have the upper hand on the conference race but I’m predicting that close losses this Saturday at West Virginia and next Saturday against Oklahoma State will knock them out of contention.)

Pac-12 NorthWashington (The Huskies have a huge game next Friday night at Stanford, but given the injury concerns of Bryce Love, I think Washington finds a way to win that one to take a stronghold on the division race.  They may need to also beat Wazzu in the Apple Cup to clinch the Pac-12 North but that shouldn’t be too tall of a task based on the way the Cougars have played on the road recently.)  

Pac-12 SouthSouthern California (USC and Arizona will hook up this Saturday night on Pac-12 After Dark in what should be a de facto division title game. Despite the meteoric rise of Arizona these past few weeks, I’m giving the Trojans the advantage since they will be playing in the Coliseum.  After that, the Men of Troy would just need to beat either Colorado or UCLA to become Pac-12 South champions.)    

SEC EastGeorgia (Unbelievably, the only challengers to the Dawgs in the East are perennial afterthoughts Kentucky and South Carolina.  However, Georgia plays both of those teams at home in the upcoming weeks and as long as they win both of those contests, or win one or the other and beat Auburn, then Georgia will win its long-awaited SEC East championship.

SEC WestAlabama (Despite Bama’s season-long reign of dominance over this conference, the Tide could very well lose the SEC West crown with a loss to either LSU or Auburn down the stretch.  I don’t see either of those things happening though, as I expect Bama to roll into Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game at 12-0.)


Side Note: Interestingly, only two of my predicted Power 5 division champs have changed since the preseason, Clemson instead of Florida State in the ACC Atlantic and Georgia instead of Florida in the SEC East.  The same cannot be said about the Group of Five conference races, which are full of surprise contenders.

AAC EastUCF (Despite USF’s upset loss at home against Houston, the end of season clash between the Bulls and UCF should still be a de facto division title game.  I’m giving the Knights the advantage in that one thanks to home field advantage and a surprisingly more potent offense.  Keep in mind, this team finished 0-12 just two short seasons ago.)

AAC WestMemphis (Before the season, no one pegged Memphis’ November 18th matchup against SMU as a potential division championship game, but that is what it may very well end up being.  First, however, SMU will need to beat either UCF on Saturday or Navy the following week to make that game matter.  Either way, Memphis hosts SMU in that matchup, so they should clinch the AAC West regardless.

C-USA EastFlorida Atlantic (Conference USA definitely takes the crown as the conference with the most wide open division races.  Between the C-USA East and West, the league has at least eight teams with a realistic chance to get to its conference title game in December.  Shockingly, the teams I picked to finish 5th in their respective divisions, FAU in the East and North Texas in the West, are the outright conference leaders right now!  The Owls have a tough game this Saturday against Marshall, but if they get by the Thundering Herd, then the division will be theirs to lose.  I predict Florida Atlantic will lose one more game, at Louisiana Tech on November 11th, but Kiffin’s squad will still win a shocking division championship if they win the rest of their contests.)

C-USA WestLouisiana Tech (I picked the Ragin’ Cajuns to be the surprise Conference USA champions in the preseason, and I am sticking to it despite their current 2-2 conference record.  This week’s matchup between LA Tech and North Texas will go along way in determining who wins this division, and I’m giving Louisiana Tech the advantage there given that the game will be played in Ruston.  In addition, LA Tech will still need to have both Southern Miss and UAB drop one more game this season, but I think the Golden Eagles will lose at Marshall in their season finale and the Blazers will lose on the road to UT-San Antonio.)

MAC EastOhio (In what was supposed to be a two-team race between Ohio and Miami-OH, the Zips of Akron have surged to a surprising lead in this division.  Akron plays both of those teams in the upcoming weeks, so we’ll see what they are truly made of in November.  Ohio actually has the tougher remaining schedule and has to play the Zips on the road, but I still think they win the MAC East by first falling to Toledo but then beating Akron six days later.)

MAC WestToledo (The top two teams in this division square off in some Thursday night MAC-tion this week, as the Rockets host the Huskies of Northern Illinois.  Toledo is far and away the most talented team in this conference, so I am predicting they go on to post an undefeated mark in conference play and put themselves in position to contend for a New Year’s Six berth.

MWC MountainBoise State (In the preseason, this division race looked to be as wide open as ever, and through nine weeks, that assessment hasn’t changed.  The Broncos were my reluctant preseason MWC Mountain Champion pick, and I’m going to stick with them despite their difficult remaining schedule.  I think they will lose either at Colorado State or Fresno, but they can still afford one conference loss as long as CSU doesn’t win out.)

MWC WestSan Diego State (This was supposed to be San Diego State’s division to dominate this season, and it sure looked that way through the month of September.  However, the Bulldogs of Fresno State, have come out of nowhere to seize the MAC West lead and emerge as the early front runner for surprise team of college football in 2017.  UAB, Arizona, Florida Atlantic, Iowa State, and North Texas are also in the running for that crown, but none of those teams posted the putrid 1-11 mark that the Bulldogs did last season.  Nevertheless, Fresno has a brutal schedule down the stretch (at Hawaii, at Wyoming, and Boise) and even though they possess the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Aztecs, I think Fresno loses two of those contests to allow San Diego State to eek out a division title.)    

Sun BeltAppalachian State (The Sun Belt will finally break into two divisions and have a conference championship game starting next season, but unfortunately, that setup is not in place for 2017.  As a result, the two conference juggernauts, Appalachian State and Arkansas State, will not get a chance to play each other this season.  They both may end up tying for the conference championship at 8-0, but I’m predicting Troy knocks off the Red Wolves on December 2nd to give App. State the outright Sun Belt crown.)


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