Conference Championship Analysis- Inaugural 2019 Edition

For the eleventh-straight season, I will be publishing weekly columns late in the season which analyze all of  the FBS conference championship races. Like my bowl bubble watch, there is not really a column like this on any other mainstream college football site.  Bolded 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 November 2, 2019.

ACC AtlanticClemson (The Tigers are the biggest lock to win a division championship as all they need to do is beat Wake Forest at home on Nov. 16th and they will clinch. The Tigers could even lose to NC State and still clinch with a win over the Deacs. And even though Wake is a quality offensive football team, it is actually in their best interest to lose that game, as they can more easily backdoor themselves into the Orange Bowl with a loss.)

ACC Coastal Virginia Tech (This division race is always wide open, but this season is especially wild.  As we enter the first Saturday of November, six of the seven teams in the division are within a game and a half of the Coastal lead.  Virginia is the wise-guy pick at this point (just as it was before the season started, but in the preseason, I picked Virginia Tech to win the Coastal and I am going to stick with it.  I think they will actually win it at this point as they host both Pitt and Wake Forest and should have no problem with Georgia Tech on the road. The finale against Virginia is in Charlottesville, but until UVA shows they can beat their intra-state rival (Hokies have won 15 in a row and 19 of the last 20) then I’m picking Tech to win that one as well.

Big 12Oklahoma/Baylor (In the preseason, everyone assumed that we would have another Red River title game this December between Oklahoma and Texas, but this league race has become fairly wide open.  Baylor is currently leading the way at 5-0 and even though I think Oklahoma beats them on November 16th, I believe the Bears, who were one of my preseason surprise teams, win their other three contests to earn a berth in the title game.  The other Big 12 championship slot will go to Oklahoma who I expect to win out now that they have had their annual regular season slip-up (see 2018 Texas and 2017 Iowa State). Unlike those two seasons however, I am not sure Oklahoma can do enough to earn themselves a playoff berth.) 

Big Ten EastOhio State (The de facto Big Ten East Championship will be played on November 23rd in Columbus between the Buckeyes and Penn State.  Even if one of these teams slipped up before or after that matchup, that game will still decide the division race. Got to pick the Buckeyes at home to take it.)

Big Ten WestWisconsin (The Gophers are the feel-good story of the year in college football season but they are about to get a rude awakening as all their tough games come in the month of November.  I predict the Gophers to drop three contests this month (vs. Penn State, at Iowa, and vs. Wisconsin), which will make this week’s Wisconsin/Iowa matchup the de facto division title game.  Got to take the Badgers at home to win that one.

Pac-12 NorthOregon (While the aforementioned Clemson Tigers are still the biggest lock to win their division, the Ducks are a close second with a commanding two game lead over the rest of the Pac-12 North.  A trip to Tempe on November 23rd could prove tricky, but even if the Ducks drop that one, they should still beat Arizona and Oregon State in Eugene to earn a berth to the Pac-12 title game.)

Pac-12 SouthUtah (Thanks to USC’s loss to Oregon, the Utes now control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South with three very winnable games remaining.  I am thus predicting Utah to win out and become the first-ever repeat champions of the Pac-12 South. Also, the Utah/Oregon Pac-12 title game could have some playoff implications if both teams come into it with just one loss a piece.) 

SEC EastGeorgia (Last week’s matchup against Florida was basically an SEC East Championship game, but the Dawgs still need to beat Missouri at home this weekend and either A & M or Auburn to clinch.  I think the Dawgs lose to Auburn but win the other two on the schedule and earn a trip to Atlanta for the third consecutive season.)     

SEC WestLSU (Even though the winner of LSU-Bama this weekend doesn’t technically clinches the West, the game is essentially a division championship game.  I am actually predicting the Bayou Bengals to go on the road and pull off the shocker over a banged up Tua. After that, the Tigers will just need to win two of their final three to take home the SEC West for the first time in eight years.)

 

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AAC EastCincinnati (By virtue of their early season win over UCF, the Bearcats are in the driver’s seat in the AAC East as they hold a one game lead in conference play as well as the head-to-head tiebreaker over their nearest challenger.  That means that even if Cincy drops its trick regular season finale at Memphis, the Bearcats will still clinch the AAC East as long as they can knock off UConn, USF, and Temple. If the Temple game was on the road it would worry me, but at home I think the Bearcats take care of business and earn a birth in the AAC Championship Game.)

AAC West Memphis (There is currently a three-way tie in the loss column in the AAC West between Navy, Memphis, and SMU.  Navy and SMU haven’t played each other yet, so one of those teams will pick up a second conference loss on November 23rd.  Memphis, on the other hand, has already played, and more importantly beaten, both SMU and Navy so they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over both squads.  The regular season finale against Cincinnati will be a tight game for the Tigers, but because Memphis will be playing at home, I am going to call for them to win out and earn a bid into the AAC conference championship game.  Interestingly enough, Memphis and Cincinnati may very well play each other in consecutive weeks as the two face off in the regular season finale and as of now are projected to play again in the conference title game a week later.  Interestingly enough, if the two teams split those games, then the AAC may get left out of the New Year’s Six bowls.)

C-USA EastMarshall (The Thundering Herd are currently tied with the Owls of FAU for first in this division, but Marshall won the head-to-head meeting between the two on October 18th.  As a result, as long as long as Marshall can get by LA Tech at home on November 15th, they will likely earn a berth to the C-USA Title Game in December. Also, even if the Herd falter against LA Tech, Florida Atlantic could also lose one of their remaining games, as they have to play a tough Southern Miss squad in their season finale.)

C-USA WestLouisiana Tech (Skip Holtz’s Ragin’ Cajun squad is undefeated in conference play, but they face a touch stretch to end the season including road games at Marshall and UAB and a home matchup against North Texas.  I predict LA Tech loses the Marshall contest but wins the rest of their games and earns a berth in their third Conference USA title game.)  

MAC EastOhio (Both division races in the MAC are wide open as we enter the month of November and would you really expect anything else?  The Bobcats are still searching for their first conference championship since 1960, and I am predicting they get one more shot at it, as I am calling them to win this division, just as I did in the preseason.  This week’s battle for division supremacy against Miami of Ohio will go along way in determining who wins the MAC East, and assuming the Bearcats can pull it out at home, they will just need to beat lowly Bowling Green and Akron to clinch the MAC East championship.  

MAC WestToledo (The most unheralded surprise story of this college football season is the meteoric rise of Ball State who is currently alone in first place in the MAC West after failing to win more than four games in any of the past four seasons!  With that being said, the Cardinals have a brutal final stretch of the season that includes games against Central Michigan and Miami of Ohio and road games at Kent State and Western Michigan. I think Ball State will likely split those four contests, and up behind the Rockets of Toledo.  Toledo had a strange road slump in early October where they inexplicably loss to Bowling Green as well as Ball State. However, the Rockets have the easiest remaining schedule of any of the MAC West contenders, so I am predicting them to win their last four games and clinch the division crown.)

MWC MountainBoise State (The Broncos are currently undefeated in conference play but they have three quality teams in this division, Air Force, Wyoming, and Utah State, nipping at their heels with just one lost.  Boise still has to play both Wyoming and Utah State, but even if they were to lose one of those contests, the Cowboys and Aggies have tough road games that I think will prevent them from winning the division.)  

MWC West Fresno State (Surprise, surprise, as it appears this division will once again come down to a battle between San Diego State and Fresno State.  These two squads are the only two ever to win this division in the six year history of the Mountain West Championship Game. SDSU and Fresno will play on November 15th in what should end up being a de facto division title game.  Currently, San Diego State sits a game in front of Fresno, but the Bulldogs seem to be peaking just at the time, so I am going to stick with my preseason prediction and call for the Fresno to win this division for the third consecutive season.)  

Sun Belt EastAppalachian State (Everyone thought the Mountaineers had this division title race in the bag, and then they dropped a shocker at home to Georgia Southern on Halloween and things became a lot more complicated.  Now, there is a three-way tie atop the division between App, Georgia State, and Georgia Southern. The Mountaineers play Georgia State on the road on November 16th, but even if they win that game, they will need Georgia Southern to drop another contest.  I think the Eagles will do just that when they play at Arkansas State on November 23rd, and App will thus claw its way to another conference championship game.)    

Sun Belt WestUL-Lafayette (First of all, I refuse to call this team the Louisiana Ragin-Cajuns.  I am not sure how or why they got official “Louisiana” naming rights in athletics over UL-Monroe but the university still calls itself the University of Louisiana at Lafayette so they are still UL-Lafayette to me.  Anyway, back to football, as the Ragin’ Cajuns are really the class of the Sun Belt West this season. They have a one game lead over the rest of the division and will get to host one of the teams tied for second (Monroe) in their season finale.  Lafayette should thus win out from here and earn a spot in the Sun Belt championship game for the second consecutive season.)   

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